On October 31, millions of people in America and around the world will celebrate Halloween. Children dressed up as Iron Man or Optimus Prime will knock on the doors of relative strangers, with the intent of bartering for either a trick or a trea. These youngsters will receive their treat more often than not. In 2009, Americans spent approximately $4.75 billion on Halloween products, including decorations, costumes, and candy according to the National Retail Federation.
Movie studios release a plethora of horror movies in the weeks building up to Halloween, targeting consumers who want a good scare to help get into the Halloween spirit. Horror films, such as “Saw” and, appropriately enough, “Halloween,” receive a late October release and quickly make millions of dollars.
Unquestionably, Halloween has become one of the most celebrated holidays in America and around the world. Despite its popularity, many people still do not know the origins of the holiday.
People such as those from the ancient Celtic cultures found in Europe in the days of the early Roman Empire, began celebrating on dates near October 31. The Celtic calendar began on November 1 so the Celts celebrated with an event called the Samhain festival, which served to both honor those who had died the previous year and to celebrate the year as a whole in much the same fashion that so many people currently celebrate New Year’s Eve.
During the Samhain, the Celtic tribes honored the dead and warded off evil spirits by performing rituals around a fire while wearing masks and face paint.
The practice of “trick-or-treating,” another staple in the modern celebration of Halloween, originated in the Middle Ages from a Catholic celebration on November 1 referred to as All Saints Day or Hallowmas. On that day, young children and the poor would go door to door and receive food in exchange for offering prayers to the deceased in a practice called “souling.”
In Mexico, el Dias de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, is still practiced. On the Day of the Dead, families honor their deceased by cleaning and decorating their gravestones and having celebrations.
Throughout the rest of the world, however, ancient traditions have given way to the modern celebrations that October 31 mark.
Coinciding with the immigration boom in the latter part of the 19th century and moving into the 20th century, Halloween became less focused on the religious customs and began evolving into a social holiday.
The Europeans who came to America that still practiced souling continued to do so in their communities. However, the religious connotations to the practice began to dwindle and the event slowly began to morph into nothing more than a fun event.
Media references to modern Halloween practices first began appearing in the 1920s and continued to grow as America drew closer to World War II.
Once World War II began and America rationed so many food products, including sugar, trick-or-treating essentially stopped.
Following the war, references to the practice of trick-or-treating began appearing in everything from various children’s magazines to the Jack Benny radio program. With the media coverage of the practice, trick-or-treating became solidified in its spot as a staple of Halloween.
Since that time, Halloween practices have continued to evolve. Haunted houses and corn mazes continue to flourish. Millions of people go to pumpkin patches to find the perfect pumpkin for a jack-o-lantern.
Halloween began as a festival to ward off evil spirits and honor the dead. It has become a night that invokes the imagery of those evil spirits, knocking on the front door with the barter of a trick or a treat to be made. Hopefully, for everyone, it will be a treat.
Anthony Fioriglio is a student at West Chester University and can be reached at AF650463@wcupa.edu