The Story of Halloween

27 October 2014

When we think of Halloween today we think of scores of kids in cute costumes being shadowed by their parents as they bang on strangers doors in search of chocolate. But how did we get here?

The earliest known record of anything relating to Halloween dates back over 2000 years ago, to a Celtic festival known as Samhain, or “summer’s end”. Taking place at the end of october, the festival signified the end of the year’s harvest and was also considered to be the death of summer and the birth of winter. It is widely thought that this ancient festival merged with the Christian festival of All Hallows Mass, which is celebrated on November 1st. And so All Hallows Eve eventually became Halloween.

The tradition of dressing up during this time is thought to date back to a British practice known as “souling”, where on November 1st people would dress up in crude costumes made of straw, knock on strangers doors and offer prayers in exchange for food. It is believed that this form of begging eventually became what is now known as trick or treating.

old costumes

Old-school costumes were not so much cute as insanely terrifying. Not sure I'd open my door to this bunch.

During the devastating potato famine of the early nineteenth century a mass exodus of Irish immigrants came to America, bringing their traditions which included most of the practices associated with Halloween. Other traditions such as apple bobbing had been part of American culture since colonial days, where it was used in fortune telling parlour games.

jack o lantern

The origin of the carved pumpkin can be traced back to an old Irish folk tale about a man known as stingy Jack, who incurred the wrath of god and was forced to roam earth forever with only a burning lump of coal to light his way. He placed the coal in a carved turnip and became known in the tale as Jack of the lantern. Hence in America they refer to carved pumpkins as Jack o’ lanterns.

Though the trick part of trick or treat is now seen as an empty threat, by the early 20th century Halloween had become associated with acts of vandalism, and general disorderly behaviour. Because of this people began to shift the idea of Halloween to a more family friendly arena, encouraging children to dress up and play games rather than commit pranks and terrorise their neighbourhoods.

teepee

Every year some unfortunate person will fall victim to Halloween 'tricksters'. The practice of "teepeeing" has been around for years, and is one of the few tricks that are still in use today.

Halloween is now second only to Christmas in its commerciality, with 4 billion dollars being spent each year in America alone. So the next time a pack of kids are banging on your door and there’s not a Mars Bar in sight, you can thank a group of 2000 year old pagan farmers for putting you in this predicament.

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 Trick or Treat!

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