The first celebrations included "play parties," public events held to celebrate the harvest, where neighbors would share stories of the dead, tell each other's fortunes, dance, and sing. Colonial Halloween festivities also featured the telling of ghost stories and mischief-making of all kinds.
In the late 1800s, there was a move in America to mold Halloween into a holiday more about community and neighborly get-togethers. At the turn of the century, Halloween parties for both children and adults became the favorite way to celebrate. Parents were encouraged by newspapers and community leaders to take anything "frightening" or "grotesque" out of Halloween celebrations. Because of their efforts, Halloween lost most of its superstitious and religious overtones by the beginning of the twentieth century. Parties focused on games, such as Pin The Tail On The Donkey, Blind Man's Bluff, Bobbing for Apples, foods of the season, and festive costumes. Of course, there were always scavenger hunts where boys and girls could pair up and search in the dark. And of course, fortune telling, and games to divine your "true love" were popular.
Continue on to the next page for stories about Victorian era ghosts and interesting links.
.Halloween's ancient origins date back 2,000 years to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celts celebrated their new year on November 1, a day that marked the harvest and the beginning of the cold, dark winter months. They believed that on the night before the new year, the worlds of the living and the dead came together, and on the night of October 31, the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops.
The celebration was marked by sacred bonfires and people who had let their hearthfires go out earlier in the day gathered to offer crops and animals to the Celtic deities. The Celts wore costumes, usually animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other's fortunes. At the end of the night of revelry, fire was taken to each home and hearthfires were ceremoniously relit and the sacred bonfire was extenguished.
By the 800's, Christianity had spread to Celtic lands. The church incorporated Christian meanings into the ancient rites. November 1 was designated All Saints' Day, a time to honor saints and martyrs. The celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints' Day) and the night before it, Samhain, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween. Later, the church designated November 2 All Souls' Day, a day to honor the dead. It was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels, and devils. Together, the three celebrations, the eve of All Saints', All Saints', and All Souls', were called Hallowmas.
The tradition of "trick-or-treating" lies in the English traditions of early All Souls' Day parades. During the festivities, the poor would beg for food, and be given pastries called "soul cakes" in return for their promise to pray for a family's dead relatives. The distribution of soul cakes was encouraged by the church as a way to replace the ancient practice of leaving food and wine for roaming spirits. The practice was referred to as "going a-souling" and was eventually taken up by children who would visit the houses in their neighborhood and be given ale, food, and money. Sometimes Halloween was called "Nutcrack Night" or "Snap Apple Night" because families gathered together before the fire to tell stories about their departed relatives, and eat nuts and apples.
Dressing in costume for Halloween has both European and Celtic roots. Hundreds of years ago, the winters, with it's long dark days were frightening. It was always uncertain wheather food supplies would last through the long winter. On Halloween, when it was believed that ghosts walked the earth, people thought that they would encounter ghosts if they left their homes. To avoid being recognized by wandering ghosts, people wore masks when they left their homes after dark so the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits. Also, to keep spirits away from their houses, people placed bowls of food outside their doors to appease the ghosts and prevent them from attempting to enter.
What is this strange holiday with it's odd music, costumes, and treats that children love so much? Here's a little about it's roots and how it was celebrated in Victorian times.