Dean College

  • The Haunting History of Halloween

    Halloween 2017

    Trick or Treat, be so sweet, give me something good to eat! Every year on October 31st we celebrate a holiday filled with candy, costumes and scares! Have you ever wondered how this mysterious holiday came about?

    Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. The day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of winter. Back then, the cold winter months were associated with a lot of human death. The Celts believed that on October 31st, ghosts of the dead returned to earth because the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred.

    As part of a celebration, sacred bonfires were created and people gathered to burn crops and animal sacrifices to the Celtics deities. During these celebrations, the Celtics wore costumes and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes.

    In 43 A.D. the Roman Empire had conquered many of the Celtics territories. The Romans had two festivals: a day in October where the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead, and another day where the honored the Roman goddess of fruit and trees, Pamona. It is believed that the traditional Halloween activity of bobbing for apples came from the celebration of Pamona.

    By the 9th century, Christianity had spread into the Celtic lands. In 1000 A.D., the church instated November 2nd as All Souls Day, a day to honor the dead. All Souls Day was very similar to Samhain with bonfires, parades and costumes of saints, angels and devils. Other names for All Souls Day included All-hallows and All-hallowsmas which was in time changed to Halloween.

    Eventually, the celebration of Halloween made its way over to America. The influence of different European ethnic groups and American Indians meshed, and the American version of Halloween was created. Celebrations included parties where neighbors shared stories of the dead, fortune telling, dancing and singing. In the second half of the nineteenth century immigrants made their way to America and helped to popularize the celebration of Halloween.

    How did Trick or Treating come about in Halloween? Originally, Americans put on their costumes and went house to house asking for food or money. However, in time pranks became the activity of choice and sometimes resulted in thousands of dollars of damages each year. Because of this, communities started their own controlled trick-or-treating traditions to avoid vandalism by having children go door-to-door trick-or-treating for candy.

    The candy trend didn’t last long though because during World War II children were forced to refrain from trick-or-treating because of sugar rationing. Luckily, after the postwar baby boom, trick-or-treating made a comeback and candy companies launched national advertising campaigns to boost the holiday and their sales.

    Today, Halloween is one of the most popular holiday’s in the United States. Americans spend approximately $6 billion annually on Halloween, ranking it one of the top commercial holiday’s in the nation. 

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