Traces of Halloween can be found in the ancient Celtic ritual known as Samhain (sow-in). Held on November 1st, Samhain marked the end of the harvest season and the onset of the cold, bleak winter. The night before, October 31st, the boundary between the living world and the afterworld was opened and the dead mingled freely among the living. These spirits were powerful and wise. It was in the 19th century when children began playing pranks and people began to fear these “ghosts” as evil.
In the 800’s, Pope Boniface IV created All-hallows from the Middle English, Alholowmesse meaning All Saints’ Day to be celebrated on November 1st in an attempt to end Samhain. However, the eve of Samhain became known as All Hallows Eve and eventually Halloween.
In the late 1800’s, there was a strong effort to change Halloween from a scary, superstitious night to a family and community holiday. Families held parities for children and scary decorations were abandoned.
The tradition of carving out pumpkins started in Ireland. Originally large turnips, rutabagas, and potatoes were used. Legend tells of an ornery man named Jack, he was a mean man and when he died Heaven turned him away, but so did Purgatory because Jack had played terrible tricks on the devil during his life. It was dark and Jack couldn’t find his way so the devil tossed him a burning coal which he promptly put inside a turnip. He was doomed to walk the earth looking for a place to go. He became known as “Jack of the Lantern,” or “Jack-o’-lantern.” To scare away Jack and other spirits, jack-o’-lanterns are placed outside the front door on the one day where spirits roam the land–Halloween. When immigrants came to the United States they started the tradition of using pumpkins.
The idea of trick-or-treating originated in England when the poor would beg for food on All Souls’ Day. Beggars would receive special treats in exchange for prayers for the dead. In time, children began “begging” for treats on Mischief Night. To avoid tricks, treats were and still are given to children.
Today, it is popular to have Halloween parties in which guests dress in costumes and eat strangely garnished food. Children go door to door dressed in costumes and receive candy or trinkets. Many people put out decorations and jack-o-lanterns and watch scary movies. There are also many places that host Haunted Houses, even the local sheriffs’ stations. More and more shopping malls and local shops are hosting safe Halloween trick-or-treating events for children.
Use the navigation links on the left to find articles, crafts, recipes, and more goodies for Halloween. And don’t forget to check out our Monster Dictionary.
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