Halloweek History Hits The Herald 

   By: Nicole Chedraoui 

ATTENTION HERALD READERS: It’s Halloweek at the Herald! This week, all of us staffers decided in honor of Halloween we should put out our spookiest articles in honor of everyone’s favorite scary day! If you’ve clicked on this article (you’re super cool and awesome), and you should definitely check out our other spine-chilling pieces! 

It’s that time of year again! The weather is getting cooler, the leaves are changing colors, and Pillsbury started selling their godly sugar pumpkin cookies! This can only mean one thing: spooky season is among us. Every candy-lover’s favorite holiday is back in swing, and that means it’s time to plan costumes, carve pumpkins, and curl up and watch your favorite scary movie. As I found myself sitting in my bed rewatching “The Conjuring” with a tub of Ben and Jerry’s, I had an absolute realization. Where in the world did Halloween even COME from? Who thought children asking random strangers for candy one night in October was a good idea? Did ancient Egyptians even know what a Reese’s cup was? I had to know more. So this week, I did the digging for all of us, going all the way back to our roots to figure out where, when, why, and how the spooky night came to be. Here’s what I found:

You may be shocked to know that the origin of Halloween dates back roughly 2,000 years ago– going all the way back to an ancient Celtic festival called Samhain (pronounced sow-in). Instead of celebrating their new year on January 1st like we do, the Celts decided they wanted to celebrate the new year on November 1st. Back then, the Celtics considered November 1st the end of summer harvest and the time of the dark, cold, dead winter. That’s right, in Celtic culture winter was VERY closely associated with human death and all things evil and bad. The Celts believed that the night before November 1st–their New Year’s Eve–the boundary holding together the two worlds–those of the living and the dead–became broken. That night of October 31st would be called Samhain, and it would be a celebration marking the night all of the undead spirits return to Earth. 

Weird phenomena were said to happen on the night of October 31st, such as strange disturbances and damage to all of the Celtic crops. It’s believed the spirits are responsible for such destruction, and Celts were even convinced that the presence of these spirits made it easier for Druids (the Celtic priests) to make accurate predictions about the future. The poor Celtics’ whole livelihood depended on the natural world and environment (their crops depended on the weather), so they took these fortune-telling prophecies very seriously. To commemorate Samhain, the Celtics threw huge bonfires where they would sacrifice their crops and animals to the Celtic deities, dressed head to toe in animal skins and heads (gross, but go off I guess). It was believed the sacrifices made at these sacred bonfires would protect them all throughout winter. 

Fast forward to 43 A.D, the Roman Empire had conquered all Celtic territory and ruled the Celtic lands for roughly 400 years, and in that time, 2 festivals of Roman origin began to combine with the traditional Samhain celebration. The first roman festival was called Feralia, which consisted of a single day the Romans dedicated to commemorating the passing of the dead. The second festival was called Pomana, where the Roman goddess of trees and fruit was celebrated. Many recognized the festival of Pomana by the symbol of the apple, and because of this, we got the tradition of bobbing for apples during Halloween time. 

All Saints Day 

Christianity began to spread to the Celtic lands in the 9th century, and in 1000 AD, November 2nd was declared “All Souls Day” by the church; a day dedicated to honoring the dead. Many believe that this was the church’s way of replacing the Celtic holiday of Samhain with something more church-sanctioned and less “dead” oriented. The celebration however remained the same, with big bonfires and dressing up for parades. Now instead of dressing up in fur and animal skulls, many would dress as devils, angels, and saints (kind of like all of the girls you see on Instagram.)  The All Saint’s Day celebration began to be called All-Hallows or All-Hallowmas, and eventually, it became a tradition to call the night before All Saint’s day, All-Hallows Eve, which of course, eventually became Halloween. 

Halloween Comes to The Americas 

If you’ve ever taken an American History class, you may be somewhat familiar with the New England, Middle, and Southern colonies. One thing that’s important to know was the New England colonies were very rigid in their religious beliefs–specifically, most people were Protestant. This was because of the strict enforcement of Protestancy, Halloween first came to the southern colonies of America. As various different European ethnicities began to mix as colonizers came to America, a distinctly American version of Halloween was created. The celebrations at the time were called “play parties,” which were socializing events held in celebration of the harvest. It was common for neighbors in the neighborhood to share stories, mingle, and even tell fortunes of the years to come. Colonial Halloweens also consisted of ghost storytelling and LOTS of community mischief. In the middle of the 19th century, annual autumn festivities commenced, but Halloween was not yet celebrated in other countries. 

History of Trick or Treating 

Borrowing from European Halloween traditions (such as All Saints Day), Americans would soon start to participate in their own version of trick or treating! Superstitions were especially high during this time and the new hip thing? Door-to-door pranks. The women of this century believed that by going door to door dressed in their best attire they could “divine” the name or appearance of their future lover by doing scary tricks using mirrors, apple pairings, and yarn. 

Due to large amounts of pranking, vandalism, and down-right destruction of local neighborhoods in the late 1800’s, Americans decided to move away from themes of mischief and pranks, and more towards community-based parades and celebrations with candy. The Irish and Scottish tradition of pranking on Halloween and using gross decorations was fun while it lasted, but soon it prompted rather violent and destructive behavior, so newspaper headlines started encouraging families to take down any decorations that were considered “grotesque” or “frightening.” It is because of this we see a shift moving into the 20th century of Halloween becoming less based around religion and superstition. Halloween parties would become the absolute thing to do if you were in your youth, and by the late 1950’s, town leaders successfully limited vandalism and destructive, mischievous behavior in exchange for good old-fashioned youthful celebration. Many refer to this time period as the “baby boomer” time due to the amount of babies being born after the war, and because of the baby boom, parties would begin to move from civic centers to at home or in the classroom where they could be better accommodated. 

The end of the war also marked the revival of trick or treating after its temporary pause, and now the century-wide practice was here to stay. It seemed buying candy was relatively inexpensive, and community members decided it was a good way to celebrate for the children. Families also were still reeling from all of the vandalism and mischief of the past, and felt giving out candy was a good way to limit the tricks played on their town. This is where the saying “trick or treat” came from. 

And there you have it folks! A solid century-long history lesson from the Iron Age Celtics to seasonal consumerism. I hope you walked away with at least some new trivial information you can share at your Halloween party this year. We are nothing without our history, and I hope this year when you go out to buy your candy and hand it out to the kids of our generation, you can think back to this article and appreciate the spooky roots of such a haunt-tastic holiday. Happy Halloween!

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