Today, the Halloween holiday has become commercialized, with its own celebrations of parades, trick or treating, revelry and more.
However, its ancient origins date back to the Celtic New Year’s Festival of Samhain (summer’s end) in Ireland, Scotland, and United Kingdom, on Nov. 1. It was believed that the deceased were allowed to revisit earth one day, and inhabit the bodies of humans and animals.
To commemorate the event, Celts, in order to ward off evil spirits, would dress themselves in animal skins and heads, parade noisily to the sacred bonfires, lit by the Druids (Celtic priests), outside of town. There they sacrificed animals to appease their gods, and protect them during the long, dark winter.
Some historians believe Halloween to have pagan roots in Samhain, while others believe Halloween to be independent of paganism and be solely founded in Christian roots.
By the 4th century, Christianity had become the established religion in most of the Roman Empire and Celtic areas. Several papal edicts were instituted. Pope Boniface, on May 13, 609 AD, dedicated the Pantheon in Rome to honor all Christian martyrs, called All Martyrs Day. Another edict by Pope Gregory III, in 730, expanded the festival to include both martyrs and saints. He also moved the date from May 13th to November 1st. By 1000 AD, the church established November 2nd as a day to pray for those who died, calling it All Souls Day.
All Souls Day was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas, while the night before, October 31st, was called All-Hallows Eve (hallowed evening), and eventually shortened to Hallwee’en.
Through the 18th and 19th centuries, Scots, Irish, and other immigrants brought a variety of their Halloween customs and folklore to the New World.
Trick-or-treating is the idea that the beggers perform some kind of trick if the homeowners don’t give a treat of candy or money. The words trick-or-treating didn’t appear in dictionaries until 1941, after they were seen in “The Saturday Evening Post” for the title of a poem.
This medieval practice of “mumming” is to have its roots in Germany and other parts of Europe, where people in masks and fancy dress paraded the streets, entering homes to play dice or dance.
Still, another tradition, in Ireland, Scotland and the United Kingdom was the custom of dressing up in costumes, or “guising” (in disguising). In exchange for food, children usually recited verses or sang songs.
Depending on the area one lived, Halloween Eve went by Mischief Night, Prank Night, Goosey Night, Corn Night, and Cabbage Night. It could involve anything from overturning outhouses, ringing doorbells and running away fast, or throwing eggs at a home or cars.
My brother, David, in my eyes, was the greatest prankster ever. I was still attending school and David was a few years older than me. One night, during Halloween week, David and his buddies placed corn stalks across the road at different places of the school bus route. I never ratted on David, but the prank turned out to be a newsworthy event written up in the Kutztown Patriot. That evening, at the supper table, Pop looked at David and said, “I was just reading about the corn stalks on the school bus route and that school had to be cancelled. They didn’t know who did it, but I do!” Nothing more was said, but I couldn’t have been a prouder sister knowing my brother and his buddies, were able to cancel a school day.
Mischief Night originated in the United Kingdom, around 1700s, when normal laws were suspended and tricks were played on each other by the young folks. It is still celebrated on different dates and by different names, due to Britian switch from Julian to Gregorian calendar in 1752.