The origins of
Halloween can be traced back for many centuries, and began as a prelude to a religious holiday
called All Hallow's Day (Nov. 1). All Hallow's Eve (Oct. 31) is observed as an austere religious occasion by
many western European countries, such as France, Spain, and Italy. But in the British isles Halloween is primarily
regarded as a night of merriment. Most of the current methods of celebration in the western world today
Celtic communities of Northern and Western Europe, especially in Ireland and Scotland, performed mystical
ceremonies in the second century B.C. Among the beliefs and practices of the celebration on that day was the
belief that on October 31 the lord of the dead assembled the souls of all those who had died the previous year.
The lord of the dead would then decree what form (animal) the dead person should take for the next year, or be
admitted into the druidic equivalent of heaven. The roaming spirits were offered sacrifices of horses and even
humans to apease them. Although the druidic practices were outlawed in A.D. 61 by the Romans during their
rule of Britain, the ancient Celtic rites survived for centuries and sacrifices continued to be made. Even after
Christianity had spread over Europe sacrifices of oxen were made. In medieval Europe black cats were
burned on October 31 as it was believed that they were witches in disguise.
Halloween folk customs of pagan
origin continued in isolated areas of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and parts of England into the 19th century. People
believed that "spirits" were out on Halloween stealing milk, harming cattle, and destroying crops. They lit
bonfires on hilltops on October 31 and set pitchforks of straw on fire to singe the brooms of lurking witches.On
this fearful night the country folk would huddle together in groups. To stay awake they told of their experiences
with strange noises, spooky shadows, and played games such as bobbing for apples.
Pranks and mischief
were common in rural areas of the British Isles on October 31, and roaming groups of merrymakers played tricks
on neighbors, some dressed in masks and clothing of the opposite sex. Blame for these pranks was naturally
Although a few of the original customs are still practiced today in the British Isles, most
are forgotten. Transplanted to the New World, however, many of these old traditions have been revitalized,
perhaps with more enthusiasm than they had in the Old World. Celebration of Halloween during colonial times
was scattered until the great Irish immigration in the 1840's. The Irish brought with them not only the traditional
observances of All Saints' Day and Eve, but the traditional mischief of their "fairy folk" or "little people". The
tradition of jack-o'-lanterns is primarily Irish. In Ireland, oversized rutabagas, turnips, and potatoes
instead of pumpkins, which were not available, were hollowed out, carved into hideous faces, and illuminated
with candles to be used as lanterns for Halloween celebrations.
There are several theories about the origin of
trick-or-treating. One is that the practice stems from the custom of "soul-caking" when Englishmen went around
on All Saints Day to beg for soul cakes (square guns with currants) in rememberance of the dead. In exchance
extra prayers for the dead relatives of those making donations were made.
A second possibility of the origin
of trick-or-treat is again from an ancient Irish practice when groups of peasants went from house to house
asking for money for which to buy luxuries for a feast. Prosperity was assured the liberal givers and threats were
made against those who were stingy.
The 20th century has brought with it less tolerance for the pranks and
mischief of yesterday. With trick-or-treating comes the fear of injurious and tainted treats. Therefore more and
more Halloween is turning into house parties and community celebrations for children, and a declining interest
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