The other day my 3 year old son asked me, “How did Halloween Start?” To be perfectly honest… I had no clue! Halloween has most definitely been “Americanized,” in the sense that it has become all about buying large amounts of candy and discounted decorations.
It is a mindless holiday that people ritualistically practice without even thinking about it. It is rare to hear someone talk about the history of Halloween. However, the history of Halloween and more specifically how it got to America, is one of the most interesting things about the holiday.
Halloween, as we know it today, has evolved from a rich tapestry of cultural influences over centuries. Its origins can be traced back to ancient Celtic festivals, particularly the festival of Samhain (pronounced “sow-in”), which marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter in what is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France. Samhain was celebrated around November 1st and involved various rituals and festivities.
The Celts believed that during Samhain, the boundary between the living and the dead was blurred, allowing the spirits of the deceased to return to the Earth. To appease these spirits, people would light bonfires and wear costumes made of animal hides. They also left offerings of food and drink on their doorsteps to ward off malevolent spirits.
With the spread of Christianity, the church sought to replace pagan festivals with Christian ones. In the 8th century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1st as All Saints’ Day, a day to honor all saints and martyrs. The night before, which had previously been Samhain, became All Hallows’ Eve, eventually known as Halloween.
Halloween made its way to North America with the Irish and Scottish immigrants who brought their traditions with them. In the United States, Halloween began to take on its modern form in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with a focus on community and neighborly activities. Trick-or-treating, where children go door-to-door for candies, became popular during this time.
The holiday has continued to evolve, influenced by a blend of various cultural practices, such as the Mexican Day of the Dead and even commercial interests. Today, Halloween is celebrated with a mix of spooky and lighthearted traditions, including costume parties, haunted houses, pumpkin carving, and of course, the exchange of candy.
It has become a time for people of all ages to embrace the playful and imaginative side of the season and to enjoy the thrill of the macabre in a safe and entertaining way.
Where Did “Trick or Treat” Come From?
Perhaps one of the most popular and widespread Halloween traditions is ringing the doorbell and saying “trick or treat” in exchange for candy. This is done by millions of children every year, but few could tell you where this practice comes in the history of Halloween. It was not always a part of the holiday.
For thousands of years, Halloween was merely a blend of pagan rituals and Christian customs. Ceremonies and festivals were held on the day, and people did dress up in costumes.
However, it wasn’t until the second half of the nineteenth century that these traditions, along with others, began to make it to America. An influx of new immigrants meant new traditions, and these contributed to how Halloween is celebrated today.
“Trick or treat” was one such tradition brought from England. During all Souls’ Day parades, the poor would beg for food. More fortunate families would give the poor “soul cakes” in return for the promise that the poor would pray for their dead relatives.
This idea eventually trickled down to children, and led to the Halloween tradition we know and love today.
How did Halloween Start
By the 1950’s, Halloween and trick-or-treating had become a fun way for communities to spend time together. Halloween parties became popular, and many neighborhoods would go trick-or-treating together.
Trick-or-treating was an inexpensive activity that people could bond over. Though by this time the history of Halloween had already been forgotten, however the traditions continued to grow.
The Tricks and Treats of Today
Halloween has changed very much throughout its long history. While as little as 50 years ago, people handed out candy apples and caramel corn, today the goodies typically consist of Butterfingers and Hershey’s Bars. This is mainly because of health fears and I feel- which just proves that the community aspect has changed quite a bit overtime.
Yet, despite the change that has occurred throughout the history of Halloween, the traditions that began the holiday are still remembered by a few select people—and it is their responsibility to make sure that it is never forgotten.