Origins of Halloween
The origins of Halloween are typically linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain, which was celebrated October 31st to November 1st to mark the end of the harvest season and the start of winter. There was a belief that the souls of the dead return home on this one night of the year. Festivities would include apple bobbing, nut roasting, and bonfires. The 16th century saw the start of “guising” or dressing up in costume and reciting verses for food. It’s thought that these may have been impersonations of spirits to receive offerings on their behalf, and also provide protection from these spirits.
There was also a practice of “souling” which was the baking and sharing of soul cakes. Children would go door to door collecting these soul cakes in exchange for praying for the dead. The name Hallowe’en itself has more Christian roots and the practices around these traditions. The original name is All Hallow’s Eve, which is the night before All Hallows’ Day on November 1st. Many major feasts had vigils that started the night before. The word for eve in Scotland is even which was then contracted to e’en, so the name we have today ended up as (All) Hallow(s)e’en.
Halloween in America
The spread of Halloween in America didn’t begin until the Irish and Scottish immigration in the 19th century. The custom gradually assimilated into mainstream society by the beginning of the 20th century. In Ireland and Scotland turnips were carved as lanterns to ward off evil spirits, but in North America they used the native pumpkin which is more easily carved than a turnip due to its size and softness compared to a turnip.
The term trick or treating didn’t arise until the 1930’s, though came from the tradition of guising. Modern day events like trunk-or-treating is growing in popularity as it is perceived to be a safer option as well as solving the problem of homes being built very far apart in some neighborhoods. Pet costumes are another rising trend with 30 million Americans spending $480 million on Halloween pet costumes in 2018, up from $200 million in 2010.