According to history.com, Halloween straddles the line between fall and winter, plenty and paucity and life and death. And so it is that Halloween is a time of both celebration and superstition. Today’s observation of the holiday is thought to have originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, or “Summer’s End,” when over 2000 years ago, people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts.
In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints and martyrs; the holiday, All Saints’ Day, incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before was known as All Hallows’ Eve and later contracted to “Halloween.“
In the United States, where lingering Puritan tradition restricted the observance of many holidays, Halloween did not become a holiday until the 19th century. The transatlantic migration of nearly two million Irish following the Irish Great Famine of 1845 to 1849 brought the holiday to the United States.
According to the first book-length history of the holiday in the U.S, “The Book of Hallowe’en,” published in 1919, “All Hallowe’en customs in the United States are borrowed directly or adapted from those of other countries.“
The main event for children of modern Halloween in the United States and Canada is trick-or-treating, in which children, teenagers, (sometimes) young adults, and parents (accompanying their children) disguise themselves in costumes and go door to door in their neighborhoods, ringing each doorbell and yelling “Trick or treat!” to solicit a gift of candy or similar items.
At the turn of the 20th century, the holiday had turned into a night of vandalism, with destruction of property and cruelty to animals and people. It was around 1912, when the Boy Scouts of America organization led other neighborhood organizations to encourage Halloween as a safe celebration that would end the destruction that had become so common on this night.
The rampant commercialization of the holiday in the United States did not start until the 20th century, possibly beginning with Halloween postcards (featuring hundreds of designs), which were most popular between 1905 and 1915. Dennison Manufacturing Company (which published its first Halloween catalog in 1909) and the Beistle Company were pioneers in commercially made Halloween decorations, particularly die-cut paper items. German manufacturers specialized in Halloween figurines that were exported to the United States in the period between the two World Wars.
Halloween is now the United States’ second most popular holiday (after Christmas) for decorating; the sale of candy and costumes is also extremely common during the holiday, which is marketed to children and adults alike. Each year, popular costumes are dictated by various current events and pop culture icons.
On many college campuses, Halloween is a major celebration, with the Friday and Saturday nearest October 31st hosting many costume parties. Other popular activities are watching horror movies and visiting haunted houses. And one of the most popular Halloween events in New York City today is the annual Halloween Parade in the West Village, sometimes attracting close to 2 million costumed partying revelers along the route.
Although we Americans may think that we have the biggest and best celebrations of Halloween, many countries around the world have their own bent on the holiday.
Throughout Europe, Halloween is recognized as part of their heritage. Bosnia and Herzegovina celebrate “Noć vještica,” or the “Night of the Witches.” Germany is relatively new in celebrating Halloween, mostly again to influences of post-Cold War American Pop Culture, and is celebrated by adults with costume parties and children with trick-or-treating.
The United Kingdom is not quite as commercial as the United States with their celebrations of Halloween consisting of traditional “soul cakes” or “souling,” the practice of giving small round cakes to children and the poor singing and saying prayers “for the souls of the givers and their friends.” This is thought to be the true origin of the practice of “trick-or-treating.” Scotland is credited as the origin of “dooking,” which we know as the bobbing for apples using mouths only in a bucket or vat of water.
Asia’s celebration of Halloween is a relatively new practice and not as common as in the Western World. In Hong Kong, because of the influx of American expats, the holiday is celebrated only in pockets of the population, where in mainland China the observation is much more sparse if even observed at all. Halloween arrived only recently in Japan, mainly in the context of American pop culture. The wearing of elaborate costumes at night is recently very popular in areas such as Amerikamura in Osaka and Kobe where, in October 2012, only about 1700 people dressed in costumes to take part in the Halloween Festival.
Considered by some Australians to be an unwanted American influence even though the holiday does have Celtic/European origins, Halloween’s increasing popularity in Australia is largely a result of American pop-culture influence. Supporters of the event claim that the critics fail to see that the event is not entirely American, but rather, Celtic and is no different to embracing other cultural traditions such as Saint Patrick’s Day.
So, whereever you are in the world on this Monday, October 31st, we hope you find a celebration of All Hallows’ Eve that fits your culture and appetites — whether it be by donning costumes and attending parties, roaming your neighborhood with the kids trick-or-treating, watching a community parade, watching scary movies or attending a nearby school function — we hope you enjoy your Halloween observance.
Watch free streaming horror movies at Moviezoot.com.
All books available at amazon.com. Click on title to order.
The Book of Hallowe’en: The Origin and History of Halloween
A.M., Ruth Edna Kelley
Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween
by Lisa Morton
Halloween: The History of America’s Darkest Holiday
by David J. Skai
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