It’s PM. A ghost, a vampire, and a zombie cheerleader approach your front porch. They’re hungry, and are coming specifically for you. Your front door pounds, outside you hear the howling of the crowd that gathers beyond. You approach the door, your hand reaches for the cool steel of the door knob. You turn it gently. The door swings open. “TRICK OR TREAT!”. They scream excitedly. It’s October 31st. It’s Halloween. Kids favorite holiday. But before it became the biggest day for costume and candy stores, Halloween, or All Hallows’ Eve stood for something other than cavities and costumes with too little fabric.
Samhain was a festival, (celebrated by the Celtics in what is now Ireland) where people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. It marked the end of summer and of harvesting. It also signified the end of the year, and with the new year, the beginning of the dark, cold, frigid winter. A time of year that was often associated with death. The Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the line between the realm of the living and the realm of the dead became blurred. So, on the night of October 31, they celebrated Samhain . A day was believed that the ghosts of the dead could return to earth.
By the 9th century the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands. Gradually, it blended with the older Celtic rites and traditions. By 1000 A.D., the church would make November 1st “All Souls’ Day”, (to honor the dead). All Souls Day was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels and devils. The All Saints Day celebration was also called all – hallows. The night before, the traditional night of Samhain in the Celtic religion began, was called All-Hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween.
Around the second half of the nineteenth century, America was flooded with new immigrants. These new immigrants, especially the millions of Irish fleeing the Irish Potato Famine, helped to popularize the celebration of Halloween nationally. Before this, Halloween wasn’t popular in early America because of the rigid Protestant belief systems that were around.
In the late 1800s, there was a move in America to mold Halloween into a holiday more about community and neighborly get-togethers. Borrowing from Irish and English traditions, Americans began to dress up in costumes and go house to house asking for food or money, a practice that eventually became today’s “trick-or-treat” tradition. A tradition where children dress up in costume and travel from house to house, asking for candy or sometimes money, with the phrase , “Trick or treat?” The word “trick” implies a “threat” to perform mischief on the homeowners or their property if no treat is given. Although the threat hast lost meaning over the years, the iconic phrase remains the same and widely recognized throughout the country.
Today, Halloween is celebrated as a day of joy. A day where you can dress up as anything you want with little to no judgement. Where the lights of reality dim, and creatures of all stories are welcome. Parties and festivals are organized to provide a creepy and scary element to remind everyone of the celebration that once based its origin around death and the end of year. So, as you bob for apples, scare your friends, and request treats and candies from strangers, remember the history of All Hallows’ Eve, and let’s all have a great time, be safe, and may the next year bring us prosperity and happiness.