Halloween History

By Ian Kimbell

Well, it’s that time of year again. Halloween is right around the corner, and in the United States, that is certainly a big deal. In 2013, there were 158 million Americans participating in the holiday, according to Forbes. Out of those, the average total spending for this holiday was $75.03. Many people invest their time and money for Halloween, but how did we get this way? Halloween is one of the strangest national holidays, with children dressing up in costumes and going door to door, demanding treats from innocent people. Citizens carve faces into vegetables and many adults spend loads to dress up themselves. But why? What are the origins of this peculiar holiday? Well, I’m glad you asked.

Of course, I can’t do a Halloween article without mentioning trick or treating in some form. The origins of trick or treating are disputed, but I will go on to say the most widely accepted information. It all began in the pre-Christian United Kingdom, Ireland and France with the Celts. The Celtic festival of Samhain was held on November 1, but the real celebrations happened on the night before. On the night of October 31, Celts thought the dead would come back to the Earth. They would hold sacrifices and sit by a fire for the evening. In the later stages of Samhain, Celts would wear animal skins and set out goods to keep spirits at bay. In a couple hundred years, they would wear masks and costumes, thinking the ghosts would think the person as one of them. These costumes were rewarded with refreshments and beverages. Later, all the way in the ninth century, the Christians began to mix their traditions with the pagan Celts. The Christians instituted a holiday called All Soul’s Day on November 2. The holiday was also called All Hallows. The night before was called All Hallow’s Eve,or Halloween for short. This holiday was used to remember and pay homage to the dead. Poor adults would go to wealthy people’s doorsteps and ask for small pastries (known as soul cakes). The poor people would then pray for the wealthy person’s relatives. Later, even children would go souling, as they called it, receiving money, wine, ale and food. The Scots and Irish would begin to institute a tradition called guising, where children would put on a costume and go to houses expecting a treat of some sort. Instead of praying, they would get it by reciting poetry, telling jokes, singing or performing some other type of trick. Later, all the way up in the 19th century, when the Irish started coming to America, they began to spread the tradition. For quite a while, it was more tricks than treats, but our modern Halloween began to approach its final stages of development. The origin of the term trick or treating is debated, but many say that it became popularized when Charles Schultz used it in a comic strip, as well as when Walt Disney used it in a Huey, Dewey and Louie short.


Now, let’s move to jack o’ lanterns. Jack o’ lanterns actually originated from an Irish folktale, and the culture spread when Irish immigrants came to America. The story is long and strange , but here is the jist of it: A man named Stingy Jack had a drink with the Devil and Jack ended up tricking him into turning into a coin to pay the tab. Jack would not release the Devil unless the Devil promised not to bother him for a year and promised not to take Jack’s soul. A year after that, Jack stuck the Devil in a tree and didn’t let him come down until promising not to bother him for ten years. When Stingy Jack died, God would not let him into heaven and the Devil could not take him into hell. So, Jack was sent by the Devil into the inky black night with one coal as a light. Jack carved and gutted a turnip, put the coal in, and he was immortalized.  Jack’s ghost was named “Jack of the Lanterns.” Over time, it evolved into “Jack o’ Lantern.” The Irish, English and Scottish then started carving turnips and beets to scare Stingy Jack and his fellow evil spirits away. When coming to America, they learned that pumpkins were much easier to carve. Nowadays, over 50, 900 acres of pumpkins are harvested every year, and many are sold to consumers that unknowingly end up sprit-proofing their homes.

Well, now you can confidently say that you will close this article knowing a bit more about Halloween  than your peers. From Stingy Jack to guising to Samhain, you know it all. Maybe, from now on, you’ll see that unusual holiday a bit differently. Have a happy Halloween, loyal readers.