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What Is Halloween? The History and Facts Behind the Holiday

Halloween will be here before you know it  So as everybody starts stocking up candy for the soon to be arriving ‘trick or treaters’ and kids and grown ups alike search for the perfect costume, we thought we’d give you a little ‘Halloween Primer’, beginning with the holiday’s origins, going back nearly two thousand years!

Origins of Halloween

Halloween had its origins during the first century A.D. in the ancient Celtic festival called Samhain (sow’ – in) . The Celts, who live in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, celebrated their new year around November first. They believed that on their new year’s eve – the last day of October – the ghosts of the dead could return to earth and inflict harm to humans, damage property, etc. To ward off the evil spirits, the Celts built huge bonfires and offered sacrifices. Many would also dress in costume, usually as animals, to try to scare the spirits away.

Halloween in America

In colonial New England the celebration of Halloween was extremely limited because of strict religious practices. Traditional fall celebrations were found in what would later become the southern states. These autumn festivals included music and dancing, the telling of ghost stories and playful ‘mischief making’. For nearly a hundred more years Halloween was still primarily a regional celebration.

During the nineteenth century immigrants to America (mostly in the staid Northeast) helped to popularize the celebration of Halloween. Taking from Irish and English traditions, Americans began to dress up in scary costumes and go house to house asking for food or money, a practice that became the ‘trick or treating’ of today.

Modern Halloween

In the time between World War I and The Great Depression, Halloween became a more secular, still community-centered holiday. Following World War II, Halloween evolved into a holiday directed mainly at the young. Parties moved from town centers into the home. During this time, the centuries-old practice of ‘trick or treating’ was also revived. Families could 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 an estimated $6 billion annually on Halloween, making it the country’s second largest commercial holiday.

So there you have it: A quick history of Halloween, a little something to remember this year amidst the fun of costumed kids, corn mazes, pumpkin patches and school plays,

 

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