As the holiday is quickly approaching you may have wondered at some point why do we celebrate Halloween. It’s a traditional holiday we’ve honored every year on October 31 for centuries. We dress in costumes and stroll through neighborhoods hoping to return home with a plastic pumpkin filled with treats.
But why? Where did this idea originate from?
As the holiday is quickly approaching you may have wondered at some point why do we celebrate Halloween. It’s a traditional holiday we’ve honored every year on October 31 for centuries. We dress in costumes and stroll through neighborhoods hoping to return home with a plastic pumpkin filled with treats. But why? Where did this idea originate from?
Though many celebrate this time-honored holiday, very few actually understand where it came from. The Halloween we know and celebrate today has been so commercialized that its origin has been lost to the mass retailers pushing candy and elaborate costumes. If we go back in history, however, we find that this holiday has deep roots in ancient culture and religious beliefs.
The Origin of Halloween
The customs of Halloween today are far from the original practices that took place centuries ago. The holiday is believed to have been prompted by the beliefs of those in Celtic-speaking countries: Ireland, The UK, and Northern France. These beliefs and customs are thought to have had Pagan roots that date back as far as 2,000 years ago.
It was during this era that the last day of October was marked as the end of Summer. It was the end of the harvest season which meant the oncoming of a cold, dark winter. This often correlated to human death. Ancient Celtics believed that on the night of October 31 the souls of the departed would come back to earth. Many of the traditions associated with Halloween might have been influenced by ancient Celtic harvest festivals, particularly the festival of Samhain. This was a festival in which bonfires were lit and villagers wore costumes with the sole purpose to ward off ghosts.
It was shortly after the 8th Century that Christianity had made its way into Celtic lands, blending with and eventually overthrowing ancient Paegan rites. In 1000 A.D. All Saints Day was incorporated by Pope Gregory III. From then on November 1 established as a holy day of obligation to honor all Saints. Festivities in England looked like Celtic remembrances of Samhain, complete with bonfires and masquerades.
It wasn’t until the 19th century that the holiday became recognized and celebrated in America. This was largely due to the strict Protestant belief systems that were in place in New England. It was when the customs and beliefs of diverse European societies and American Indians came together that the holiday emerged into an American version.
— Old Halloween Postcards —
Where Did Trick-or-Treating Coming From?
So, by now you understand the history behind this dark holiday and why costumes are worn as tradition. Another question that deems further investigation, however, is why do we celebrate Halloween by trick-or-treating? Going back to the festival Samhain where it was celebrated to dress in disguise with costumes, people also paid homage to the dead by providing offerings or sacrifices. It was believed that food and drink were given as offerings to appease the spirits that roamed the earth.
Dating back to the 15th century, the tradition evolved among Christians into a custom where meager villagers would visit the homes of the wealthy requesting gifts such as food or money. These were suggested to have served as offerings for representing the dead or in return for promising to pray for the dead relatives of the family. The practice of ‘souling’ became the custom which was referred to as singing, reciting a poem or performing prior to collecting a reward.
By the early 20th Century, the tradition of ‘souling’ was adapted in the United States by people from Ireland and Scotland communities. It was shortly after a large number of immigrants made their way into America fleeing from the Irish Potato Famine. The tradition was popularized by young people and children. By the 1930s to mid 1940s trick or treating took off in America as we know it today requesting sweet treats.
Halloween Trivia | Fun Facts
As you can see, the traditions and customs have evolved immensely from the original traditions to a more family-friendly affair. Many take part in the fun festivities around this holiday we acknowledge today with Halloween parties and spooky trails or haunted houses. Here are a few additional interesting facts that correlate to Halloween that you may not have known.
Halloween Was Almost Banned
After the Great Depression, Halloween became a dangerous event that almost led many cities to ban the holiday completely. This was believed to stem from the outbreak of WWII, during which time sugar was rationed and resulted in fewer treats. Halloween pranks turned into vandalism and acts of violence. This was resolved by the time of the Baby Boom post-war when candy companies were no longer inhibited by sugar rations.
Before Pumpkins Were Used Lanterns Were Made From Turnips
The ancient Pagan rituals to divert the spirits of the dead from entering into homes and farms also consisted of placing lanterns outside of the home. The lanterns were made by carving out faces into large turnips and setting candles inside. The turnip lamps would rest along roadways and by entryways, to both light the path for explorers and alert any passing ghosts against attacking.
Ancient Halloween Fables Consist of Fortune Telling and Magic
Early English old stories about Halloween are brimming with superstition and fortune-telling that are still perceived today. One widely known superstition from folklore is associating black cats to witchcraft and to avoid crossing them. This stems from ancient beliefs that black cats were protected by the dark powers of their masters.
In addition to black cats, owls are often perceived as an animal associated with Halloween. In Europe during the Medieval period owls were believed to be witches. It was thought that the sound of an Owl’s call determined that someone was near death.
Have you ever wondered why spiders are also often correlated with Halloween decor? Another old superstition is that if you saw a spider on Halloween night it could be the form of a deceased loved one watching over you.
One passage of these old stories claimed that if a young unmarried girl held a mirror while strolling down the stairs backwards at midnight, the face that shows up in the mirror will be their next lover. I would not advise this practice!
Des Moines Celebrates Halloween with a Tradition Known as Beggar’s Night
Young children in Des Moines have a slightly different tradition for trick or treating called Beggars’ Night. The occasion started around 1938 as an approach to avoid vandalism and give more young trick or treaters a safer approach to appreciate Halloween. Beggars’ Night is fundamentally the same as traditional trick or treating with a fun twist. In order to get a treat children must tell a joke, recite a poem or perform a ‘trick’.
Candy Corn Used to be Called Chicken Feed
Despite the fact that many despise the tricolor candy, candy corn is a very popular Halloween treat. It was originally called chicken feed because corn was primarily used to feed chickens at the time that it was invented. The creator George Renninger came out with the candy in 1880 which was sold in boxes with a rooster design.
Halloween Makes up 25% of ALL candy sales annually
According to the National Retail Federation, Halloween marks the second-largest commercial holiday for candy sales. Approximately 2.6 billion dollars is spent on candy each year for Halloween alone.
Halloween is one of the oldest holidays we celebrate today. So why do we celebrate Halloween the way we do today? Although the highly commercialized holiday marks a profitable time for the candy companies, its dark history depicts an ominous time we can all appreciate not reliving.
And now, one of the earliest poems ever written about Halloween, entitled “Halloween.” Written in 1785. Published in 1786. Written by Robert Burns. Twenty-eight stanzas.
Written with a blend of Scots and English, making it challenging to make sense of unless you understand ‘Scots.’ Read the poem with translation integrated into the text : Ayrshire Members Centre the National Trust for Scotland
Halloween by Robert Burns — read poem after image.
From the book : The Complete Works of Robert Burns: Containing the Poems, Songs, and Correspondence. Illustrated By W.H. Bartlett, T. Allom, and Other Artists.
Halloween | Robert Burns
Upon that night, when fairies light,
On Cassilis Downans dance,
Or owre the lays, in splendid blaze,
On sprightly coursers prance;
Or for Colean the rout is ta’en,
Beneath the moon’s pale beams;
There, up the Cove,to stray an’ rove,
Amang the rocks and streams
To sport that night;
Amang the bonie winding banks,
Where Doon rins, wimplin, clear;
Where Bruce ance rul’d the martial ranks,
An’ shook his Carrick spear;
Some merry, friendly, countra-folks
Together did convene,
To burn their nits, an’ pou their stocks,
An’ haud their Halloween
Fu’ blythe that night.
The lasses feat, an’ cleanly neat,
Mair braw than when they’re fine;
Their faces blythe, fu’ sweetly kythe,
Hearts leal, an’ warm, an’ kin’:
The lads sae trig, wi’ wooer-babs
Weel-knotted on their garten;
Some unco blate, an’ some wi’ gabs
Gar lasses’ hearts gang startin
Whiles fast at night.
Then, first an’ foremost, thro’ the kail,
Their stocks maun a’ be sought ance;
They steek their een, and grape an’ wale
For muckle anes, an’ straught anes.
Poor hav’rel Will fell aff the drift,
An’ wandered thro’ the bow-kail,
An’ pou’t for want o’ better shift
A runt was like a sow-tail
Sae bow’t that night.
Then, straught or crooked, yird or nane,
They roar an’ cry a’ throu’ther;
The vera wee-things, toddlin, rin,
Wi’ stocks out owre their shouther:
An’ gif the custock’s sweet or sour,
Wi’ joctelegs they taste them;
Syne coziely, aboon the door,
Wi’ cannie care, they’ve plac’d them
To lie that night.
The lassies staw frae ‘mang them a’,
To pou their stalks o’ corn;
But Rab slips out, an’ jinks about,
Behint the muckle thorn:
He grippit Nelly hard and fast:
Loud skirl’d a’ the lasses;
But her tap-pickle maist was lost,
Whan kiutlin in the fause-house
Wi’ him that night.
The auld guid-wife’s weel-hoordit nits
Are round an’ round dividend,
An’ mony lads an’ lasses’ fates
Are there that night decided:
Some kindle couthie side by side,
And burn thegither trimly;
Some start awa wi’ saucy pride,
An’ jump out owre the chimlie
Fu’ high that night.
Jean slips in twa, wi’ tentie e’e;
Wha ’twas, she wadna tell;
But this is Jock, an’ this is me,
She says in to hersel’:
He bleez’d owre her, an’ she owre him,
As they wad never mair part:
Till fuff! he started up the lum,
An’ Jean had e’en a sair heart
To see’t that night.
Poor Willie, wi’ his bow-kail runt,
Was brunt wi’ primsie Mallie;
An’ Mary, nae doubt, took the drunt,
To be compar’d to Willie:
Mall’s nit lap out, wi’ pridefu’ fling,
An’ her ain fit, it brunt it;
While Willie lap, and swore by jing,
‘Twas just the way he wanted
To be that night.
Nell had the fause-house in her min’,
She pits hersel an’ Rob in;
In loving bleeze they sweetly join,
Till white in ase they’re sobbin:
Nell’s heart was dancin at the view;
She whisper’d Rob to leuk for’t:
Rob, stownlins, prie’d her bonie mou’,
Fu’ cozie in the neuk for’t,
Unseen that night.
But Merran sat behint their backs,
Her thoughts on Andrew Bell:
She lea’es them gashin at their cracks,
An’ slips out-by hersel’;
She thro’ the yard the nearest taks,
An’ for the kiln she goes then,
An’ darklins grapit for the bauks,
And in the blue-clue throws then,
Right fear’t that night.
An’ ay she win’t, an’ ay she swat
I wat she made nae jaukin;
Till something held within the pat,
Good Lord! but she was quaukin!
But whether ’twas the deil himsel,
Or whether ’twas a bauk-en’,
Or whether it was Andrew Bell,
She did na wait on talkin
To spier that night.
Wee Jenny to her graunie says,
“Will ye go wi’ me, graunie?
I’ll eat the apple at the glass,
I gat frae uncle Johnie:”
She fuff’t her pipe wi’ sic a lunt,
In wrath she was sae vap’rin,
She notic’t na an aizle brunt
Her braw, new, worset apron
Out thro’ that night.
“Ye little skelpie-limmer’s face!
I daur you try sic sportin,
As seek the foul thief ony place,
For him to spae your fortune:
Nae doubt but ye may get a sight!
Great cause ye hae to fear it;
For mony a ane has gotten a fright,
An’ liv’d an’ died deleerit,
On sic a night.
“Ae hairst afore the Sherra-moor,
I mind’t as weel’s yestreen
I was a gilpey then, I’m sure
I was na past fyfteen:
The simmer had been cauld an’ wat,
An’ stuff was unco green;
An’ eye a rantin kirn we gat,
An’ just on Halloween
It fell that night.
“Our stibble-rig was Rab M’Graen,
A clever, sturdy fallow;
His sin gat Eppie Sim wi’ wean,
That lived in Achmacalla:
He gat hemp-seed, I mind it weel,
An’he made unco light o’t;
But mony a day was by himsel’,
He was sae sairly frighted
That vera night.”
Then up gat fechtin Jamie Fleck,
An’ he swoor by his conscience,
That he could saw hemp-seed a peck;
For it was a’ but nonsense:
The auld guidman raught down the pock,
An’ out a handfu’ gied him;
Syne bad him slip frae’ mang the folk,
Sometime when nae ane see’d him,
An’ try’t that night.
He marches thro’ amang the stacks,
Tho’ he was something sturtin;
The graip he for a harrow taks,
An’ haurls at his curpin:
And ev’ry now an’ then, he says,
“Hemp-seed I saw thee,
An’ her that is to be my lass
Come after me, an’ draw thee
As fast this night.”
He wistl’d up Lord Lennox’ March
To keep his courage cherry;
Altho’ his hair began to arch,
He was sae fley’d an’ eerie:
Till presently he hears a squeak,
An’ then a grane an’ gruntle;
He by his shouther gae a keek,
An’ tumbled wi’ a wintle
Out-owre that night.
He roar’d a horrid murder-shout,
In dreadfu’ desperation!
An’ young an’ auld come rinnin out,
An’ hear the sad narration:
He swoor ’twas hilchin Jean M’Craw,
Or crouchie Merran Humphie
Till stop! she trotted thro’ them a’;
And wha was it but grumphie
Asteer that night!
Meg fain wad to the barn gaen,
To winn three wechts o’ naething;
But for to meet the deil her lane,
She pat but little faith in:
She gies the herd a pickle nits,
An’ twa red cheekit apples,
To watch, while for the barn she sets,
In hopes to see Tam Kipples
That vera night.
She turns the key wi’ cannie thraw,
An’owre the threshold ventures;
But first on Sawnie gies a ca’,
Syne baudly in she enters:
A ratton rattl’d up the wa’,
An’ she cry’d Lord preserve her!
An’ ran thro’ midden-hole an’ a’,
An’ pray’d wi’ zeal and fervour,
Fu’ fast that night.
They hoy’t out Will, wi’ sair advice;
They hecht him some fine braw ane;
It chanc’d the stack he faddom’t thrice
Was timmer-propt for thrawin:
He taks a swirlie auld moss-oak
For some black, grousome carlin;
An’ loot a winze, an’ drew a stroke,
Till skin in blypes cam haurlin
Aff’s nieves that night.
A wanton widow Leezie was,
As cantie as a kittlen;
But och! that night, amang the shaws,
She gat a fearfu’ settlin!
She thro’ the whins, an’ by the cairn,
An’ owre the hill gaed scrievin;
Whare three lairds’ lan’s met at a burn,
To dip her left sark-sleeve in,
Was bent that night.
Whiles owre a linn the burnie plays,
As thro’ the glen it wimpl’t;
Whiles round a rocky scar it strays,
Whiles in a wiel it dimpl’t;
Whiles glitter’d to the nightly rays,
Wi’ bickerin’, dancin’ dazzle;
Whiles cookit undeneath the braes,
Below the spreading hazel
Unseen that night.
Amang the brachens, on the brae,
Between her an’ the moon,
The deil, or else an outler quey,
Gat up an’ ga’e a croon:
Poor Leezie’s heart maist lap the hool;
Near lav’rock-height she jumpit,
But mist a fit, an’ in the pool
Out-owre the lugs she plumpit,
Wi’ a plunge that night.
In order, on the clean hearth-stane,
The luggies three are ranged;
An’ ev’ry time great care is ta’en
To see them duly changed:
Auld uncle John, wha wedlock’s joys
Sin’ Mar’s-year did desire,
Because he gat the toom dish thrice,
He heav’d them on the fire
In wrath that night.
Wi’ merry sangs, an’ friendly cracks,
I wat they did na weary;
And unco tales, an’ funnie jokes
Their sports were cheap an’ cheery:
Till butter’d sowens, wi’ fragrant lunt,
Set a’ their gabs a-steerin;
Syne, wi’ a social glass o’ strunt,
They parted aff careerin
Fu’ blythe that night.