“Freeze! Police! Don’t move!” The words barely penetrated. It was the flashing blue, red and white lights, one big spotlight and the gun that kept me frozen in the middle of my long driveway. In hindsight, I can see how playing a trick on my sister who was home alone, on Halloween, may not have been the brightest idea in my ten years of life. Although looking down the barrel of a gun, I didn’t think I was going to get any older. That is my most memorable Halloween to date. I am now fifty-two. As the ghoul and goblin season approaches, I get nostalgic. Halloween is my absolute favorite holiday (despite the aforementioned one) and one of my favorite movies, by the way. However, I digress. I was telling you about my nostalgia for the holiday. The ghost stories told, the trick or treating, the eating of too much candy and of course the pranking that seems to go hand and hand with the holiday. There must always be Halloween pranks amongst the kids and teenagers of those who participate. But, how did this all start?
Now, the original Halloween, or shall we say, the Festival of Samhain, dates back to the ancient Celtics (my people, one set of them anyway, I’m a mutt) over two-thousand years ago in the region that today is Ireland. Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Northern France all celebrate the new year on November first. The day marked the end of summer, the harvest, the start of the earlier darkness and the cold. Many associate this time of year with death. The Celts believed that on new year eve (October 31st) the line between the living and the dead weaken and allowed the dead to come back. The Celts believe the ghostly spirits caused trouble and damage their crops. It was at this time the Druids were able to make their predictions. To commemorate this time, the Druids built a bonfire in which the people brought crops and animals to the fire to burn as sacrifices to their Celtic Gods. During the partying the Celts wore costumes, usually consisting of animal heads and skins and tried to tell each other’s fortunes. The scarier the better.
From this origin, Halloween travel through time, ever-changing. From the Celts to the Romans with their Martyr’s Day and All Saints Day (aka All Hallows). By the 9th century, Christianity had spread to the Celts. The celebrations of All Saints Day and Samhain were very similar. For the Celts All Saints Day and the night before, the traditional Samhain began to be known as All Hallows Eve and then eventually Halloween.
In America, Halloween was at first only celebrated in Maryland and the Southern colonies due to the strict Protestant beliefs of the New England colonies. As America became a large melting pot, each culture bringing their own beliefs and celebrations, blending with the American Indian’s culture resulted in the first celebration to include public events (known as play parties) to mark the harvest. The play parties included dressing up in costumes, dancing, singing, and storytelling of the dead (original ghost story around the fire). These parties also included mischief-making (pranks, tricks). By the middle of the 19th Century the autumn festivities were common but not yet celebrated everywhere in America.
The second half of the 19th Century saw America inundated with immigrants, especially the Irish escaping the Irish Potato Famine. These immigrants caused the Halloween celebration to spread nationally. Combining Irish and English traditions, Americans started to dress up in costumes and go house to house asking their neighbors for food or money. Hence, trick or treat is born. Young women believe if they performed a trick with yarn, apple parings and mirrors they could know their future husbands. This introduced the ‘witchcraft’ part of Halloween.
In the late 1800s America sought to take the scary part of Halloween out of the celebration, making a bid for it to be more about community and neighbors (the first Halloween party at home). Parents were encouraged to leave the scary parts out of the celebration, make it more a party for children. In the following decades Halloween became a festive, happy celebration.
However, there are those who still like to prank and do tricks. That’s why today Halloween is a happy celebration with a little fright in the mix. Hence, my own run in with a policemen’s gun at the age of ten. Trust me folks, if one of your sisters asks you to scare another sister on a windy Halloween when that sister is home alone, remember, these are modern times and there are things like phones to call the police when you think your home is being invaded by multiple intruders. Stick with eating lots of chocolate.
Cate Mckoy is a lifetime resident of a small upstate town about sixty minutes north of Manhattan. The only thing she loves more than being a writer is being a mother and grandmother. She has been a Jane of all trades and was formally trained as a technology analyst and computer tech. Cate supports a number of charities and wishes everyone “Happy Reading.”
You can discover more about Cate here: www.amazon.com/Cate-Mckoy/e/B00JCOJVNC