We all know about Halloween and the custom of trick or treating on the night of October 31st. But what is Halloween all about? Just why is it celebrated?
What are the origins of Halloween where we dress up as ghouls and ghouls so that we can get some candy?
And just why have I even written about this holiday on a genealogy and family website anyway?
Halloween (Hallowe’en or All Hallow’s Evening) – October 31st
All Saints’ Day (All Hallows) – November 1st
All Souls’ Day – November 2nd
Credit: Miguel Angel Rodriguez Lopez
When Did Halloween Start?
This holiday has its origins around 2,000 years ago and is thought to have originated from the Celts.
These people lived in what is now known as Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France.
Halloween through the ages
The Celtic festival of Samhain celebrated and paid homage to the dead on October 31st. The Celts believed that the dead would return to earth on Samhain.
They would offer sacrifices and light bonfires.
Villagers would disguise themselves in animal skins so that they could drive away phantom visitors.
There would also be tables laid out with food that would satisfy the unwelcome spirits.
Then in the Middle Ages, (5th to 15th Century), people would dress up as all sorts of ghoulish creatures such as demons and ghosts.
They would also perform antics in the exchange for both food and drink.
This custom was known as mumming or guising and is thought to be the modern-day equivalent of trick or treating.
The Arrival of Christianity
The 9th Century saw the arrival of Christianity into Celtic lands, and trick or treating blended with this new religion.
By 1000 A.D. November 2nd was designated as All Soul’s Day by the church.
This is a day to honor the dead. This was a celebration much similar to the Celtic festival where bonfires were lit and costumes were worn.
The traditions of Halloween
The poorer people of the community would go to the wealthier families and receive pastries that were called soul cakes.
These were given in exchange for a promise to pray for the souls of the homeowner’s dead relatives.
This custom was known as souling.
Jack-o’-lanterns were carried by the guisers. These lanterns represented the souls that were denied entry into both heaven and hell, (trapped souls).
And they were carved out of turnips by the Irish and Scottish.
Later Americans would use a pumpkin instead as this was much easier to carve out than a turnip.
The beginning of trick-or-treat
This custom was then taken up by children, who would go around the neighborhood asking for food.
So, you can clearly see that this was a precursor to the modern-day custom of trick or treating.
In both Ireland and Scotland young people would dress themselves up in costumes and would accept offerings from households.
In exchange for the offerings, they would sing, recite a poem, tell a joke or perform a trick.
This was performed instead of pledging to pray for the dead. Their treat would be either fruit, nuts, or even coins.
Influence of the United States
During the mid 19th Century a large number of immigrants came from Ireland. This influx was due to the potato famine of the 1840s.
By the early 20th Century the Irish and Scottish immigrants revived the customs of souling and guising.
The 1920s saw many acts of vandalism on this holiday by young individuals. These tricks or pranks saw more than $100,000 worth of damage each year within the major metropolitan areas.
This even carried on during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The word trick meant threat if no treat was given by the homeowner.
It is believed that these acts of vandalism were stopped by organizing community-based trick or treating.
However, with the outbreak of World War II children had to stop visiting households as sugar rationing was introduced.
With the conclusion of the war trick or treating resumed and it quickly became popular and widespread throughout the United States. Candy companies capitalized on this holiday.
There is an estimated $6 billion spent on Halloween each year. This makes it the nation’s second largest commercial holiday.
The Three Days of Halloween
I have mentioned the origins of Halloween and how it has spread across America to become the second most popular of the holidays.
But what has Halloween got to do with family you may be asking?
I will come to that shortly but first I will explain the three days of this period.
Where did the name Halloween come from?
Halloween or Hallowe’en is a contraction of All Hallow’s Evening. It is also known as Allhalloween, All Hallow’s Eve, or All Saint’s Eve.
It is celebrated on October 31st and is the eve before All Hallows’ Day.
Halloween is the first of three days known as Allhallowtide. This is a time to remember the dead, who include saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the dearly departed.
The 3 days of Halloween
So, the first day of Allhallowtide is Halloween which I have already discussed.
The second day is All Saints’ Day (All Hallows) and is celebrated on November 1st by Christians, as well as by other denominations.
There is a fundamental belief that there is a spiritual connection between those in heaven and the living during this time.
This day gives thanks to the lives and deaths of saints.
Then on the third day, it is All Souls’ Day and is celebrated on November 2nd by the Christian community and is the last day of Allhallowtide.
It commemorates the dearly departed but is not subjected to just relatives.
For me this date is very much in my mind not only because of this day’s intentions but because my grandfather died on this day.
So, it is a very special time for me.
It should be a special time for anyone who has lost someone close to them, a family member or a friend.
What To Do On Halloween?
As parents, we will either buy or make costumes for our children to dress in. Then they will walk with them with maybe their friends as well while they door knock and collect candy.
After that when we get home they will eat their candy. They will most likely then get a belly ache as a result of eating way too much candy.
So, what do you do on Halloween?
If you don’t have kids then what do you do to celebrate this spooky time?
There are many other things that you can do on Halloween besides the usual trick or treating.
But what are they?
Well, you could decorate your home, your garage, your backyard or just one room of the house. Skeletons, cobwebs, skulls, and pumpkins could be dotted all over the house.
You could then play spooky sound effects and music to set the theme. Using red and black lights always gives a great ghostly ambiance to the party.
Some of your friends could even pop up from wherever and scare your other guests.
A scary movie could be played on your TV to add to the atmosphere. Halloween-inspired food and games could also be played.
Your guests could play the usual hide-and-seek game.
This may seem lame but as your friends are dressed up as scary creatures of the night this may surprise you when they jump up from nowhere and scare the living daylights out of you.
Traditional games to play
Other games to play include bobbing for apples, passing the apple, (just using your chin), or snapping an apple where an apple is suspended and you have to try and eat it without using your hands.
Another apple game is called apple paring where you have to use a knife to cut the longest and narrowest peel.
What else though besides throwing a Halloween party?
There are more things that you can do besides decorating your home and throwing a party though.
You may wish to check out haunted places that are around your city.
Just check online to see what places there are around you. Chances are that they will be throwing some ghostly tours and events.
Party with your friends or just watch a movie
You may also want to have a slumber party with your friends. Here you can tell spooky ghost stories with the lights off or low and use a flashlight for extra effect.
You can then challenge your friends to tell the scariest story.
If you want to just spend time alone or with your partner you may just want to watch scary movies together.
There will be plenty to choose from as the TV stations will be playing many of your favorite films.
Even if you do not want to dress up or throw a party you could greet the kids that show up at your door with candy.
If you live in a busy neighborhood just make sure that you have plenty of candy to last the night. You may also wish to dip into the treats yourself.
I know I would.
Go simple with your decorations
And if you do not want to go over the top with decorations you may just want to carve out a pumpkin or two.
Just visit your local store and purchase any one of the carving kits that they will have to offer.
These are pretty easy to do as the kits will come with stencils of either spooky scenes or characters.
You may also want to do carve out pumpkins with your kids as well. Just be careful with that carving knife.
My Final Thoughts
Halloween is not only the time of the year for kids but adults and families. We share Halloween with our kids by dressing them up as whatever character they wish to trick or treat in.
They may dress up as a ghost, demon, Spider-man, or Elsa. We will also watch them go from house to house collecting treats.
It is very much a family affair.
The following day All Saints’ Day can also be observed by families to celebrate the lives of saints.
And lastly, All Souls Day should be remembered by everyone who has not only lost someone close to them but also the recently deceased.
For me, these dates are important as I remember everyone that has come before me.
If it wasn’t for the connections that were made between my ancestors then I would not be here today.
As I have researched my own genealogy I have come to appreciate my ancestors and the lives that they lived. And I remember them during this time.
Written by Mary Harrell-Sesniak, this is a list of spooky jokes dating from 1846 through to 1900. These jokes were sourced from the historical newspaper that can be found at Genealogy Bank.
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