If graveyards make you nervous, and Jack-O Lanterns leer from every window, if the streets are full of monsters, just relax! It’s all part of the fun! Trick? Treat? Or a little of each? Let’s turn on all the lights and take a look at Halloween.
Ages ago, when history was short, and winters were dark, tribes of Celtic farmers believed there was one day a year when the season of life meets the season of death, when malevalent spirits could rise from their graves and walk amongst the living. It was Celtic Ireland B.C. and that day was called Samhain, the Celtic word for summer’s end.
On a day when so many spirits lurked, druid priests tried to foretell whether their villages would survive the winter. Ordinary Celts lit great bonfires and diguised themselves to repel and confuse the spirits. In the 8th century in a likely attempt to distract the celts from their pagan practice, Pope Gregory the III established all hallows day, a day honouring all saints, known and unknown, on Nov 1st.
Europeans accepted the new holiday but saw no reason not to enjoy their traditional rituals as well, and soon Samhain became know as All Hallow’s Eve, from there it was a short walk to the name we all know today: Halloween.
Predictably, such a heathen tradition was of no interest to America’s first puritans, so it – like in Europe – was left behind. Until the mid 19th century when a potato famine drove over a million starving Irish and their folklore across the Atlantic and into America’s port cities. An ocean from home, and immersed in a cultural melting pot their traditions began to change.
The burning bonfires shrank to lanterns, carved from gourds that became the first Jack O’ Lanterns. And the Celt’s demonic disguises became the sinister costumes of modern day Halloween. The origins of trick-or-treating remain unclear. It is believed to stem from a custom known as souling in which the poor went from home to home and prayed for the souls of each family’s dead in exchange for small cakes to eat. By the early part of the 20th century Halloween was gaining a foothold as an American institution. Mass produced Halloween costumes became common place making Halloween one of the most profitable holidays on the calendar earning retailers billions of dollars. Halloween’s appeal transends age: delighting both children, and yes even adults alike. It’s a date to step into costume, gorge on sweets, throw ghoulish galas, and to scare ourselves silly the truth is frightfully clear: not even a silver bullet can stop Halloween now.