Boo! Halloween History
Halloween is a big holiday in America — $6 billion a year big — second only to Christmas.
Your plans for Halloween may vary. For some people, it means taking their kids trick-or-treating. You might be planning to get dressed up and head to a costume party. Or you may just want to stay home and watch a marathon of scary movies.
Have you ever wondered why we do all these things? Here’s a look at the history of Halloween.
The Origins of Halloween
To find the origins of Halloween, you have to go pretty far back, to the Celts.
These were people who lived 2,000 years ago in what is now Ireland and the United Kingdom. They celebrated their new year on November 1, marking the end of summer and the end of the harvest.
The Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the walls between the worlds of the dead and the living would break down, and ghosts would return to earth. These spirits caused mischief, but also made it easier to for Celtic priests to predict the future. To celebrate the event – which they called “Samhain” (pronounced “sow-in”) they lit large sacrificial bonfires and dressed in animal masks and costumes.
When the Romans took over Celtic lands, they merged their festivals with Samhain. One of these Roman festivals was a day to honor the fruit goddess Pomona. The symbol of Pomona is an apple, which is likely where we get the tradition of bobbing for apples.
When Christianity reached the Celtic lands, its rites blended with Celtic rituals. This included the feast of All Soul’s Day on November 2, believed to be an attempt to replace Samhain with a church-approved holiday. There were similarities: All Soul’s Day celebrations involved bonfires and costumes – angels, saints and devils. November 1 was All Saints Day, referred to as “All-hallows or All-Hallowsmas. The night before was called “All-hallows Eve,” which later became “Halloween.”
Halloween in America
Halloween evolved even more when it came to America, with European and Native American customs merging to form a holiday that involved fortune-telling, ghost stories and mischief making.
Halloween became more popular nationwide by the mid-1800s. Americans began dressing up in costumes on Halloween and going from house to house to ask for food or money, a practice that became the trick-or-treating we know it today.
For a few decades starting in the late 1800s, American Halloween changed to become a more community-oriented event, which meant it lost its supernatural/religious focus by the beginning of the 20th century.
Trick or Treat!
Halloween and candy seem inextricably linked. For all we know, there’s a bowl of candy sitting in your country kitchen right now, waiting for trick-or-treaters.
As we said above, trick-or-treating as we know it today is a fairly recent phenomenon, and one that didn’t always involve candy.
“Kids ringing a stranger’s doorbell in 1948 or 1952 received all sorts of tribute: Coins, nuts, fruit, cookies, cakes, and toys were as likely as candy,” The Atlantic wrote in its history of the connection between Halloween and candy. “In the 1950s, Kool-Aid and Kellogg’s promoted their decisively non-candy products as trick-or-treat options, while Brach’s once ran ads for chocolate-covered peanuts during the last week of October that didn’t mention Halloween at all.”
It wasn’t until the 1970s, the Atlantic writes, that candy became the dominant Halloween treat.
Why We Carve Jack-O-Lanterns
Is there a pumpkin in your country kitchen, waiting to be carved? You have Ireland to thank for that too.
The practice of crafting jack-o-lanterns comes from an Irish myth about a man called “Stingy Jack,” who managed to outwit the devil. When Jack died, neither God nor the devil would claim Jack’s soul, forcing Jack to wander the night with only a glowing coal to light his way.
Jack put the coal inside a hollowed-out turnip, and wandered the earth. The Irish began calling this ghostly character “Jack of the Lantern,” which later became just “Jack O’Lantern.”
People in Ireland and Scotland began making their own versions of the mythic lantern from turnips and potatoes. When Irish and Scotch immigrants came to America, they found that pumpkins – a native plant – made the perfect jack-o-lantern.
At Piper Classics, we hope you’ll have a safe, fun holiday, hopefully accented some of our autumn-flavored country décor. Happy Halloween!