Halloween falls on Oct. 31 as always, and for most of us, the holiday probably seems pretty much the same from year to year. But the truth is a lot has changed since Halloween first started to be practiced. Let’s take a brief yet interesting look at Halloween over the years.
How it all began
There are a few theories on the origins of Halloween. Although it most likely has Celtic pagan roots incorporated into its customs, it’s probably most accurate to say that Halloween as we tend to now know it began as the evening before All Saints’ Day. All Saints’ Day was important day in the calendar of early Christians when the faithful would honor the deceased saints of the Church.
All Saint’s Day was moved from May to the date of Nov. 1 in the 9th century by the Western Christian Church, and continues to be practiced by Catholics and some Protestant Christians today. The name for the night before — “All Hallow’s Eve,” or the evening of all that were holy — ultimately involved into the name the celebration has today.
The use of costumes and trick-or-treating
Again, depending on the source, the use of costumes might have had its root in the Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvesting season. Known as Samhain, one of its traditions was dressing up in a disguise and going door to door, reciting verses in return for food — very reminiscent of today’s trick-or-treating.
However, on All Hallow’s Eve, there was also a practice of dressing up as one of the saints to be celebrated on the next day. So both accounts include dressing in costumes as an ancient part of these festivities.
And as far back as the 15th century, Christians would go door-to-door to sing for“soul-cakes” during a period known as “Allhallowtide,” which lasted from Oct. 31 until Nov. 2 (which is the Christian holiday of “All Souls’ Day,” the celebration of all who had passed away. Wearing costumes continued as an act called “guising” throughout Scotland and later, other parts of Britain and Ireland.
But while the traditions had their start on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, it was both the United States and Canada that embraced them and made them popular — and eventually turning them into the celebration that continues today. Only during World War II and the rationing of sugar did the popularity of Halloween wane.
However, over the years, there’s been the less savory history of Halloween in the United States as a night of vandalism. The whole idea behind the phrase “trick or treat” was that, if the children didn’t get the candy they desired, the alternative would be a “trick” upon the property. Back in the earlier part of the 20th century, adults tended to view the practice less like fun and more like “extortion.” Sadly, even in recent years, it remains an excuse for some to “TP” trees with toilet paper and throw eggs at windows. But overall, the night’s activities now tend to be harmless excuses to dress up and overindulge in various types of candy.
Changing trends over time
Every year, there’s a little something different about Halloween — most notably the choice of costume. Where once it was all about all things spooky — ghosts, witches, and vampires — today, entertainment, media, and politics have a huge impact on costume choices.
Virtually every American president starting with Richard Nixon has had the honor of having a rubber mask created of his likeness, and the wearing of these masks is popular at Halloween parties attended by adults.
Another big costume theme is movies. Back in the late 1970s, Star Wars characters such as Chewbacca and Princess Leia dominated neighborhood doorsteps. Disney films always produce a long line of characters to portray — particularly princesses. In fact, popularity of Halloween as a custom rose after the 1952 release of the Disney cartoon titled “Trick or Treat” — which starred long-time favorite Donald Duck and his nephews: Huey, Duey, and Louie.
And then there are the comic book superheroes — Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man are always popular choices for boys, and likewise, Batgirl, Supergirl, and Wonder Woman for girls.
In the 1960s and 1970s, many children costumes came complete with plastic masks of popular characters. However, because a child’s vision could be severely obstructed by such a mask, wearing one made seeing moving traffic difficult when trying to cross streets. Due to the potential danger involved, by the 1980s, manufacturers had stopped producing and selling the plastic masks.
As of late, the practice of trick-or-treating has morphed from a purely door-to-door activity to a deliberately staged event, usually in the name of safety. As traditional trick-or-treating sends children to the doors of strangers, these events are held in what’s considered to be a safer environment for children. One such trending event is the so-called “trunk-or-treat,” where children go to a local parking lot (usually at a church, school, or park district location) with their parents and go from car to car. In the open trunk, the children find lots of candies to which they can help themselves. These events often also host other activities, such as games, and the cars are usually decorated appropriately for Halloween.
The more things change…
As the saying goes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Halloween may have gone through many changes over the years, but one thing is certain: It’s still a lot of fun. Be sure to check your town’s website or newspaper to find out the hours for trick-or-treating and what Halloween events are happening in your area. Enjoy a fun and safe Halloween!
Some content courtesy of Wikipedia via the following links: