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[Halloween Recipes] [Halloween Information, Jokes, Songs, Stories]
Origins of Halloween
There appear to have been four major holy days celebrated by the Paleopagan Druids, possibly throughout the Celtic territories: Samhain, Oimelc, Beltane & Lughnasadh (in one set of Irish-based modern spellings). Four additional holy (or High) days (Winter Solstice or Midwinter, Spring Equinox, Summer Solstice or Midsummer, and Fall Equinox), which are based on Germanic or other Indo-European cultures, are also celebrated in the Neopagan Druid calendar, along with others based on mainstream holidays (visit the linked essay for details).
The most common practice for the calculation of Samhain, Oimelc, Beltane and Lughnasadh has been, for the last several centuries, to use the civil calendar days or eves of November 1st, February 1st, May 1st and August 1st, respectively. Since we have conflicting evidence on how the Paleopagan Druids calculated these dates, modern Neopagans just use whichever method is most convenient. This means, of course, that we aren't all doing anything uniformly on any given night, which fits perfectly with the Neopagan saying that, organizing Pagans is like herding cats. It doesn't match the Evil Conspiracy theories which have us all marching to a strict drumbeat in perfect Satanic unison at all.
These four major holy days have been referred to as fire festivals for at least the last hundred years or so, because (1) to the ancient Celts, as with all the Indo-European Paleopagans, fire was a physical symbol of divinity, holiness, truth, and beauty; (2) fires play important roles in the traditional customs associated with these festivals; and (3) several early Celtic scholars called them that. Whether in Ireland or India, among the Germans or the Hittites, sacred fires were apparently kindled by the Indo-European Paleopagans on every important religious occasion. To this very day, among Eastern Orthodox and Western Catholics, you can't have a satisfying ritual without a few candles being lit of course, the Fundamentalists consider themHeathen too!
Samhain or Samhuinn is pronounced sow-(as in female pig) -en (with the neutral vowel sound) not Sam Hainbecause mh in the middle of an Irish word is a sound (don't ask me why, it's just Irish). Known in Modern Irish as Lá Samhna, in Welsh as Nos Galen-gaeof (that is, the Night of the Winter Calends), and in Manx as Laa Houney (Hollantide Day), Sauin or Souney, Samhain is often said to have been the most important of the fire festivals, because (according to most Celtic scholars) it may have marked the Celtic New Year. At the least, Samhain was equal in importance to Beltane and shared many symbolic characteristics. Samhain was the original festival that the Western Christian calendar moved its All SaintsDayto (Eastern Christians continue to celebrate All Saints Day in the spring, as the Roman Christians had originally). Since the Celts, like many cultures, started every day at sunset of the night before, Samhain became the evening of All Hallows; (hallowed= holy = saint) which was eventually contracted into Hallowe'en or the modern Halloween.
Whether it was the Celtic New Year or not, Samhain was the beginning of the Winter or Dark Half of the Year (the seasons of Geimredh=Winter and Earrach=Spring) as Beltane was the beginning of the Summer or Light Half of the Year (the seasons of Samradh=Summer and Foghamhar=Fall). The day before Samhain is the last day of summer (or the old year) and the day after Samhain is the first day of winter (or of the new year). Being between; seasons or years, Samhain was (and is) considered a very magical time, when the dead walk among the living and the veils between past, present and future may be lifted in prophecy and divination.
Many important mythological events are said to have occured on that day. It was on a Samhain that the Nemedians captured the terrible Tower of Glass built by the evil Formorians; that the Tuatha De Danann later defeated the Formors once and for all; that Pwyll won his wife Rhiannon from Gwawl; and that many other events of a dramatic or prophetic nature in Celtic myth happened. Many of these events had to do with the temporary victory of the forces of darkness over those of light, signaling the beginning of the cold and dark half of the year.
There is some evidence to indicate that three days were spent celebrating this festival. Philip Carr-Gomm, Chosen Chief of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, speaking of both Paleopagan and Mesopagan Druids in England, had this to say about it in his Elements of the Druid Tradition:
Samhuinn, from 31 October to 2 November was a time of no-time. Celtic society, like all early societies, was highly structured and organised, everyone knew their place. But to allow that order to be psychologically comfortable, the Celts knew that there had to be a time when order and structure were abolished, when chaos could reign. And Samhuinn, was such a time. Time was abolished for the three days of this festival and people did crazy things, men dressed as women and women as men. [This happened at Beltane too IB] Farmers gates were unhinged and left in ditches, peoples horses were moved to different fields, and children would knock on neighbours doors for food and treats in a way that we still find today, in a watered-down way, in the custom of trick-or-treating on Hallowe'en.
But behind this apparent lunacy, lay a deeper meaning. The Druids knew that these three days had a special quality about them. The veil between this world and the World of the Ancestors was drawn aside on these nights, and for those who were prepared, journeys could be made in safety to the other side. The Druid rites, therefore, were concerned with making contact with the spirits of the departed, who were seen as sources of guidance and inspiration rather than as sources of dread. The dark moon, the time when no moon can be seen in the sky, was the phase of the moon which ruled this time, because it represents a time in which our mortal sight needs to be obscured in order for us to see into the other worlds.
The dead are honoured and feasted, not as the dead, but as the living spirits of loved ones and of guardians who hold the root-wisdom of the tribe. With the coming of Christianity, this festival was turned into Hallowe'en (31 October), All Hallows [All Saints Day] (1 November), and All Souls Day (2 November). Here we can see most clearly the way in which Christianity built on the Pagan foundations it found rooted in these isles. Not only does the purpose of the festival match with the earlier one, but even the unusual length of the festival is the same.
The Christian Church was unable to get the people to stop celebrating this holiday, so they simply sprinkled a little holy water on it and gave it new names, as they did with other Paleopagan holidays and customs. This was a form of calendrical imperialism, co-opting Paleopagan sacred times, as they had Paleopagan sacred places (most if not all of the great cathedrals of Europe were built on top of earlier Paleopagan shrines and sacred groves). So when Fundamentalists come to your local school board and try to get Halloween removed from the public schools because it's a Pagan holiday, they are perfectly correct. Of course, Valentine's Day/Lupercalia, Easter/Eostre, and Christmas/Yule also have many Paleopagan elements associated with their dating and/or symbols, as the Jehovah's Witnesses and others have pointed out for decades. So if we decide to rid the public schools of all holidays that have Pagan aspects to them, there won't be many left for the kids to enjoy.
I find it amusing that American teens and pre-teens seem to have instinctively expanded their seasonal celebrations to add another night before Halloween, one on which they commit various acts of harmless (or unfortunately not) vandalism, including pranks on neighbors. If we assume that All Saints Day was moved to co-opt the central day of Samhain which was associated originally with the Gods and Goddesses of the Celts, and All Souls Day was supposed to co-opt the worship of the Ancestors, then the modern Cabbage Night, Hell Night (boy does that push the Fundamentalists' buttons!), or simply Mischief Night (which used to be April 30th - the night before May Day - in Germany - there's that Beltane/Samhain connection again) would correspond to a celebration of the often mischievous Nature Spirits. This then nicely covers the Indo-European pattern of the Three Kindreds of Deities, Ancestors, and Nature Spirits.
Where does the custom of trick or treating come from? Is it really ancient, a few centuries old, or relatively modern? Let's look at the evidence:
Kevin Danaher, in his remarkable book The Year in Ireland, has a long discussion of the traditional Irish celebrations of this festival. In one section on Hallow-E'en Guisers, he says:
A familiar sight in Dublin city on and about October 31 is that of small groups of children, arrayed in grotesque garments and with faces masked or painted, accosting the passers-by or knocking on house doors with the request: Help the Hallow E'en party! Any apples or nuts? in the expectation of being given small presents; this, incidentally, is all the more remarkable as it is the only folk custom of the kind which has survived in the metropolis.
A couple of generations ago, in parts of Dublin and in other areas of Ireland, the groups would have consisted of young men and grown boys, who often travelled considerable distances in their quest, with consequently greater reward. The proceeds were usually expended on a Hallow E'en party, with music, dancing, feasting and so on, at some chosen house, and not merely consumed on the spot as with the children nowadays
Irisleabhar na Gaedhilge, ii, 370, states that in parts of Count Waterford, Hallow E'en is called oidhche na h-aimléise, The night of mischief or con. It was a custom in the county - it survives still in places - for the boys to assemble in gangs, and, headed by a few horn-blowers who were always selected for their strength of lungs, to visit all the farmers' houses in the district and levy a sort of blackmail, good humouredly asked for, and as cheerfully given. They afterward met at some rendezvous, and in merry revelry celebrated the festival of Samhain in their own way. When the distant winding of the horns was heard, the bean a' tigh [woman of the house] prepared for their reception, and got ready the money or builín (white bread) to be handed to them through the half-opened door. Whoever heard the wild scurry of their rush through a farm-yard to the kitchen-door - there was always a race amongst them to get possession of the latch - will not question the propriety of the word aimiléis [mischief] applied to their proceedings. The leader of the band chaunted a sort of recitative in Gaelic, intoning it with a strong nasal twang to conceal his identity, in which the good-wife was called upon to do honour to Samhain... A contributor to An Claidheamh Soluis, 15 Dec. 1906, 5, gives a example of these verses, from Ring, County Waterford:
'Anocht Oidhche Shamhna, a Mhongo Mango. Sop is na fuinneogaibh; dúntar na díirse. Eirigh id' shuidhe, a bhean an tighe. Téirigh siar go banamhail, tar aniar go flaitheamhail. Tabhair leat ceapaire aráin agus ime ar dhath do leacain fhéin; a mbeidh léim ghirrfiadh dhe aoirde ann ages ciscéim choiligh dhe im air. Tabhair chugham peigín de bhainne righin, mín, milis a mbeidh leawhnach 'n-a chosa agus uachtar 'n-a mhullaigh; go mbeidh sé ag imtheacht 'n-a chnocaibh agus ag teacht Ôn-a shléibhtibh, agus badh ó leat go dtachtfadh sé mé, agus mo chreach fhada níor bhaoghal dom.'
'(Oh Mongo Mango, Hallow E'en tonight. Straw in the windows and close the doors. Rise up housewife, go inside womanly, return hospitably, bring with you a slice of bread and butter the colour of your own cheek, as high as a hare's jump with a cock's step of butter on it. Bring us a measure of thick fine sweet milk, with new milk below and cream above, coming in hills and going in mountains; you may think it would choke me, but, alas! I am in no danger.)'
Wow, that chant sure sounds scary, doesn't it?
As I mentioned before, because it was an in-between kind of holiday, spirits (nice or nasty), ancestors (ditto), or mortals (ditto?) were thought to be more easily able to pass from This World to the Other World and vice versa. It was also a perfect time for divination or fortune telling (Danaher talks about all of this at great length). While some monotheists may consider these activities to be evil, most religions in human history have considered them perfectly normal.
Before and after the arrival of Christianity, early November was when people in Western and Northern Europe finished the last of their harvesting, butchered their excess stock (so the surviving animals would have enough food to make it through the winter), and held great feasts. They invited their ancestors to join them, decorated family graves, and told ghost stories - all of which may strike some monotheists today as spiritually erroneous, but which hardly seems evil - and many modern polytheists do much the same (though few of us have herds to thin). So where does trick or treating come in?
According to Tad Tuleja's essay, Trick or Treat: Pre-Texts and Contexts, in Jack Santino's anthology, Halloween and Other Festivals of Death and Life, modern trick or treating (primarily children going door-to-door, begging for candy) began fairly recently, as a blend of several ancient and modern influences. I'm mixing Tuleja's material here with my own insights, see his essay for details of his opinions, which I'll mark with italics to separate from mine:At various times and places in the Middle Ages, customs developed of beggers, then children, asking forsoul cakes on All Souls Day.
In 1605 c.e., Guy Fawkes' abortive effort to blow up the British Parliament on November 5th, led to the creation ofGuy Fawkes Day, celebrated by the burning of effigies of Fawkes in bonfires and children dressing in rags to beg for money for fireworks. As the decades rolled by, this became thoroughly entwined with Halloween celebrations and customs. This is not surprising, considering that bonfires were a central part of the old Samhain/Halloween tradition, and that Nov. 5th was actually closer to the astrological date for Samhain (thought by some Neopagans to be the original dating method) than Nov. 1st was!
In 19th Century America, rural immigrants from Ireland and Scotland kept gender-specific Halloween customs from their homelands: girls stayed indoors and did divination games, while the boys roamed outdoors engaging in almost equally ritualized pranks, which their elders blamed on the spirits being abroad that night.
Also in mid-19th Century New York, children calledragamuffins would dress in costumes and beg for pennies from adults on Thanksgiving Day.
Things got nastier with increased urbanization and poverty in the 1930's. Adults began casting about for ways to control the previously harmless but now increasingly expensive and dangerous vandalism of the boys. Towns and cities began organizing safe Halloween events and householders began giving out bribes to the neighborhood kids as a way to distract them away from their previous anarchy. The ragamuffins disappeared or switched their date to Halloween. The term trick or treat, finally appears in print around 1939!
Pranks became even nastier in the 1980's, with widespread poverty existing side-by-side with obscene greed. Unfortunately, as criminologists, military recruiters and historians know, the most dangerous animals on our planet are unemployed teenaged males. Bored kids in a violence-saturated culture slip all too easily from harmless decoration of their neighbors houses with shaving cream and toilet paper to serious vandalism and assaults. Blaming Halloween for this is rather like blaming the Fourth of July for the many firecracker injuries that happen every year (and which are also combatted by publicly sponsored events).
By the mid- 20th century in Ireland and Britain, it seems only the smaller children would dress up and parade to the neighbors houses, do little performances, then ask for a reward. American kids seem to remember this with their chants of Jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg, and other classic tunes done for no reason other than because it's traditional.
To a great extent, the costumes worn by modern trick-or-treaters represent, as they might have in older times, an effort to entertain, amuse and/or scare the neighbors, and to compete a bit with others in beauty, ugliness, humor, scariness, and costuming skill.
What was Halloween in America like forty years ago? Read Phaedra Oorbeck's Halloween and Me
Why Bother to save Halloween?is an essay by Richard Seltzer, which has yet more reasons why it's important to keep the custom of trick or treating alive:
Halloween is a time that reconfirms the social bond of a neighborhood (particularly the bond between strangers of different generations) by a ritual act of trade. Children go to lengths to dress up and overcome their fear of strangers in exchange for candy. And adults buy the candy and overcome their distrust of strange children in exchange for the pleasure of seeing their wild outfits and vicariously reliving their own adventures as children.
In other words, the true value and importance of Halloween comes not from parading in costumes in front of close friends and family, but from this interchange with strangers, exorcising our fears of strangers, reaffirming our social bond with the people of the neighborhood who we rarely, if ever, see the rest of the year.
Several correspondents have said, If the holiday isn't evil why are there so many evil images associated with it such as ghosts, skeletons, black cats, ugly witches, demons, monsters, and Jack O'Lanterns? The answer, of course, is that most of these images aren't evil, and the ones that are negative were added by people opposed to the holiday.
Ghosts have always made perfect sense, for Samhain was the festival where the Gates Between the Worlds were open wide and departed friends and family could cross over in either direction. As I mentioned earlier, people invited their ancestors to join them in celebration. The only ones who would cower in fear would be people who had wronged someone dead and who therefore feared retribution of some sort. The often repeated tale that the dead roamed the earth after dying until the next Samhain, when they could then pass over to the afterlife, makes no sense in either Celtic Paleopagan or Medieval Christian beliefs, so is probably fairly modern. It is possible that any earth-bound spirits needing assistance to pass over might have received it at this time, but this wouldn't have been considered necessary for most of the dead.
Samhain was the time of year when the herds were culled. That means that farmers and herders killed the old, sick or weak animals, as well as others they didn't think would make it through the winter with that year's available food. Prior to the last few centuries in the West, most people lived with death as a common part of life, especially since most of them lived on farms. Samhain became imbued with symbolism of these annual deaths. So skeletons and skulls joined the ghosts as symbols of the holiday. Again, there's nothing evil here, at least to the innocent in heart. Indeed, in Mexico, where the holiday is known as Los dias de los Muertos,or Days of the Dead (combining All Saints Day with All Souls Day) skeleton and skull toys and even candies are made and enjoyed by the millions, many by and for devout Roman Catholics
Medieval Christians feared cats, for reasons as yet unclear, and especially feared black cats who could sneak invisiblyaround at night. It's ironic that they feared cats so much that they killed tens of thousands of them, leaving their granaries open to rats and mice, no doubt causing much food to be wasted, and leaving Europe as a whole wide open to the Black Plague, which was carried by the fleas on those rats and mice. Unfortunately, the millions of human deaths caused by the Black Plague were later blamed on the the Church invented, then murdered. Cats, as evil animals, then became associated with the evil witches.
Witches as figures of pure evil were invented by the medieval Church. Paleopagan witches were usually local herbalists, midwives, healers and fortune tellers, who might sometimes be suspected of doing evil magic, but who were thought of mostly in terms of their crafts. As diviners, they may well have been consulted on the best divination night of the year, but I know of no formal association of witches with Samhain until the late Middle Ages.
As the Church tried harder and harder to make people abandon their Paleopagan customs for the new Christian ones, Samhain became a prime target. The Church began to say that demons were abroad with the dead, and that the fairy folk were all monsters who would kill the unwary. When Gothic Witchcraft was invented, the Evil Devil-Worshipping Witch simply became the newest monster to add to the others. The green skin was a twentieth century touch the Wizard of Oz movie added to the evil old hag version of the Gothic Witch.
Halloween became a holiday in modern times for which half the fun was being scared out of one's wits. Modern fiction added new monsters to the American mix, including vampires (previously known mostly in Eastern Europe), werewolves, mummies (after modern Egyptology started), and various psychopathic killers and ghouls. These are not images anyone actually needs to perpetuate, but the teens certainly enjoy them.
Jack O'Lanterns, as mentioned earlier, became popular as house decorations in the USA after immigrant Irish people discovered how much easier pumpkins were to carve than turnips, unleashing what has turned into quite an art form in the last decade or so. They certainly add a spooky touch, especially when the glowing faces appear from the darkness.
Most psychiatrists and psychologists seem to agree that Halloween's emphatic celebration of death serves to bring out our culture's suppressed feelings about the topic, which can be a healthy experience for both children and adults. I strongly suspect that the primary reason for American culture's aversion to thinking about death and dying is that most modern Westerners don't actually believe the mainstream monotheistic religions' doctrines on the topic, or if they do, they fear eternal punishment more than they expect an eternal reward. The Paleopagan/Neopagan views that death is a transition to a new state of being where things go on much as they have here, at least until one reincarnates, is much less frightening (at least for those having a relatively happy life now), and makes most spirits of the dead unthreatening to us.
Certainly, Halloween gives parents an opportunity to discuss their beliefs and attitudes about death with their children, one hopes with no recent close death to cloud the issues, and to soothe whatever fears their children may have.
Pumpkins are carved into Jack O'Lanterns for Halloween. We bake them into Pumpkin pie. Tales of terror have used pumpkins to create an eerie atmosphere. How did the pumpkin become associated with Halloween? Well the answer is in the tale of an unfortunate soul named Jack.
According to Irish folklore a man named Jack, well known for his drunkenness and quick temper got very drunk at a local pub on All Hallows Eve. As his life began to slip away the Devil appeared to claim Jack's soul. Jack, eager to stay alive, begged the Devil to let him have just one more drink before he died. The Devil agreed. Jack was short of money and asked the Devil if he wouldn't mind assuming the shape of a sixpence so Jack could pay for the drink and after the transaction the Devil could change back.
Seeing how the Devil is quite gullible in almost all of these folk tales, he agreed again to help Jack out and changed himself into a sixpence. Jack immediately grabbed the coin and shoved it into his wallet which just happened to have a cross-shaped catch on it. The Devil, now imprisoned in the wallet screamed with rage and ordered Jack to release him.
Jack agreed to free the Devil from his wallet if the Devil agreed not to bother Jack for a whole year. Again, the Devil agreed to Jack's terms. Realizing he now had a new lease on life, at least for a year, Jack decided to mend his ways. For a time Jack was good to his wife and children and began to attend church and give charity. Eventually Jack slipped back into his evil ways.
The next All Hallows Eve as Jack was heading home the Devil appeared and demanded that Jack accompany him. Once again Jack, not too eager to die, distracted the devil by pointing to a nearby apple tree. Jack convinced the Devil to get an apple out of the tree and even offered to hoist the Devil up on his shoulders to help him get the apple. The Devil, fooled once again by Jack, Climbed into the tree and plucked an apple. Jack took out a knife and carved a cross into the trunk of the tree. Trapped once again the Devil howled to be released and told Jack he would give him 10 years of peace in exchange for his release. Jack, on the other hand, insisted the Devil never bother Jack again. The Devil agreed and was released.
Almost a year later Jack's body , unable to keep up with Jack's evil ways, gave out and Jack died. When Jack tried to enter Heaven he was told that because of his meanness he would not be allowed into Heaven. When Jack attempted to gain entry into Hell, the Devil, still smarting from years of humiliation refused Jack admission. However, being the kind Devil that he was, the Devil threw Jack a piece of coal to help Jack find his way in the dark of limbo. Jack put the piece of coal into a turnip and it became known as a Jack O'Lantern. On All Hallows Eve if you look you can still see Jack's flame burning dimly as he searches for a home.
You might be asking yourself, "Hmmm, that was an interesting story Mr. Web Page guy but where do the pumpkins fit into this?" Well I will tell you my friendly net surfer. The use of Jack O'Lanterns as festival lights for Halloween is a custom that descended from the Irish who used carved out turnips or beets as lanterns. On Halloween, these lights represented the souls of the dead or goblins freed from the dead. When the Irish emigrated to America they could not find many turnips to carve into Jack O'Lanterns but they did find an abundance of pumpkins. Pumpkins seemed to be a suitable substitute for the turnips and pumpkins have been an essential part of Halloween celebrations ever since.
Halloween's origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31, they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter.
To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other's fortunes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.
By A.D. 43, Romans had conquered the majority of Celtic territory. In the course of the four hundred years that they ruled the Celtic lands, two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain. The first was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple and the incorporation of this celebration into Samhain probably explains the tradition of "bobbing" for apples that is practiced today on Halloween.
By the 800s, the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands. In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 All Saints' Day, a time to honor saints and martyrs. It is widely believed today that the pope was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, but church-sanctioned holiday. The celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints' Day) and the night before it, the night of Samhain, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween. Even later, in A.D. 1000, the church would make 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 American tradition of "trick-or-treating" probably dates back to the early All Souls' Day parades in England. During the festivities, poor citizens would beg for food and families would give them pastries called "soul cakes" in return for their promise to pray for the 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, which was referred to as "going a-souling" was eventually taken up by children who would visit the houses in their neighborhood and be given ale, food, and money.
The tradition of dressing in costume for Halloween has both European and Celtic roots. Hundreds of years ago, winter was an uncertain and frightening time. Food supplies often ran low and, for the many people afraid of the dark, the short days of winter were full of constant worry. On Halloween, when it was believed that ghosts came back to the earthly world, people thought that they would encounter ghosts if they left their homes. To avoid being recognized by these ghosts, people would wear masks when they left their homes after dark so that the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits. On Halloween, to keep ghosts away from their houses, people would place bowls of food outside their homes to appease the ghosts and prevent them from attempting to enter.
As European immigrants came to America, they brought their varied Halloween customs with them. Because of the rigid Protestant belief systems that characterized early New England, celebration of Halloween in colonial times was extremely limited there. It was much more common in Maryland and the southern colonies. As the beliefs and customs of different European ethnic groups, as well as the American Indians, meshed, a distinctly American version of Halloween began to emerge. 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. By the middle of the nineteenth century, annual autumn festivities were common, but Halloween was not yet celebrated everywhere in the country.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, America was flooded with new immigrants. These new immigrants, especially the millions of Irish fleeing Ireland's potato famine of 1846, helped to popularize the celebration of Halloween nationally. Taking from Irish and English traditions, Americans began to dress up in costumes and go house to house asking for food or money, a practice that eventually became today's "trick-or-treat" tradition. Young women believed that, on Halloween, they could divine the name or appearance of their future husband by doing tricks with yarn, apple parings, or mirrors.
In the late 1800s, there was a move in America to mold Halloween into a holiday more about community and neighborly get-togethers, than about ghosts, pranks, and witchcraft. At the turn of the century, Halloween parties for both children and adults became the most common way to celebrate the day. Parties focused on games, foods of the season, and festive costumes. 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.
By the 1920s and 1930s, Halloween had become a secular, but community-centered holiday, with parades and town-wide parties as the featured entertainment. Despite the best efforts of many schools and communities, vandalism began to plague Halloween celebrations in many communities during this time. By the 1950s, town leaders had successfully limited vandalism and Halloween had evolved into a holiday directed mainly at the young. Due to the high numbers of young children during the fifties baby boom, parties moved from town civic centers into the classroom or home, where they could be more easily accommodated. Between 1920 and 1950, the centuries-old practice of trick-or-treating was also revived. Trick-or-treating was a relatively inexpensive way for an entire community to share the Halloween celebration. In theory, families could also prevent tricks being played on them by providing the neighborhood children with small treats. A new American tradition was born, and it has continued to grow. Today, Americans spend $2.5 billion annually