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I make dead things deader
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Been reading some outlandish claims on another thread. Decided to put all the rumors to bed. This is how it all began and evolved.


Halloween's origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31, they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter.
To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other's fortunes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.
By A.D. 43, Romans had conquered the majority of Celtic territory. The Romans observed the holiday of Feralia, intended to give rest and peace to the departed. Participants made sacrifices in honor of the dead, offered up prayers for them, and made oblations to them. The festival was celebrated on February 21, the end of the Roman year.
By the 800s, the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands. So in the 7th century, Pope Boniface IV introduced All Saints' Day to replace the pagan festival of the dead. It was observed on May 13. Later, Gregory III changed the date to November 1. The Greek Orthodox Church observes it on the first Sunday after Pentecost. It is widely believed today that the pope was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, but church-sanctioned holiday. The celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints' Day) and the night before it, the night of Samhain, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween. Even later, in A.D. 1000, the church would make November 2 All Souls' Day, a day to honor the dead. It was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels, and devils. Together, the three celebrations, the eve of All Saints', All Saints', and All Souls', were called Hallowmas.
As European immigrants came to America, they brought their varied Halloween customs with them. Because of the rigid Protestant belief systems that characterized early New England, celebration of Halloween in colonial times was extremely limited there. It was much more common in Maryland and the southern colonies. As the beliefs and customs of different European ethnic groups, as well as the American Indians, meshed, a distinctly American version of Halloween began to emerge. The first celebrations included "play parties," public events held to celebrate the harvest, where neighbors would share stories of the dead, tell each other's fortunes, dance, and sing. Colonial Halloween festivities also featured the telling of ghost stories and mischief-making of all kinds. By the middle of the nineteenth century, annual autumn festivities were common, but Halloween was not yet celebrated everywhere in the country.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, America was flooded with new immigrants. These new immigrants, especially the millions of Irish fleeing Ireland's potato famine of 1846, helped to popularize the celebration of Halloween nationally. Taking from Irish and English traditions, Americans began to dress up in costumes and go house to house asking for food or money, a practice that eventually became today's "trick-or-treat" tradition. Young women believed that, on Halloween, they could divine the name or appearance of their future husband by doing tricks with yarn, apple parings, or mirrors.

In the late 1800s, there was a move in America to mold Halloween into a holiday more about community and neighborly get-togethers, than about ghosts, pranks, and witchcraft.
At the turn of the century, Halloween parties for both children and adults became the most common way to celebrate the day. Parties focused on games, foods of the season, and festive costumes. Parents were encouraged by newspapers and community leaders to take anything "frightening" or "grotesque" out of Halloween celebrations. Because of their efforts, Halloween lost most of its superstitious and religious overtones by the beginning of the twentieth century.
By the 1920s and 1930s, Halloween had become a secular, but community-centered holiday, with parades and town-wide parties as the featured entertainment. Despite the best efforts of many schools and communities, vandalism began to plague Halloween celebrations in many communities during this time. By the 1950s, town leaders had successfully limited vandalism and Halloween had evolved into a holiday directed mainly at the young. Due to the high numbers of young children during the fifties baby boom, parties moved from town civic centers into the classroom or home, where they could be more easily accommodated. Between 1920 and 1950, the centuries-old practice of trick-or-treating was also revived. Trick-or-treating was a relatively inexpensive way for an entire community to share the Halloween celebration. In theory, families could also 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 $6.9 billion annually on Halloween, making it the country's second largest commercial holiday.
The American tradition of "trick-or-treating" probably dates back to the early All Souls' Day parades in England. During the festivities, poor citizens would beg for food and families would give them pastries called "soul cakes" in return for their promise to pray for the family's dead relatives.
The distribution of soul cakes was encouraged by the church as a way to replace the ancient practice of leaving food and wine for roaming spirits. The practice, which was referred to as "going a-souling" was eventually taken up by children who would visit the houses in their neighborhood and be given ale, food, and money.
The tradition of dressing in costume for Halloween has both European and Celtic roots. Hundreds of years ago, winter was an uncertain and frightening time. Food supplies often ran low and, for the many people afraid of the dark, the short days of winter were full of constant worry. On Halloween, when it was believed that ghosts came back to the earthly world, people thought that they would encounter ghosts if they left their homes. To avoid being recognized by these ghosts, people would wear masks when they left their homes after dark so that the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits. On Halloween, to keep ghosts away from their houses, people would place bowls of food outside their homes to appease the ghosts and prevent them from attempting to enter.
Contrary to the information published by many organizations, there is no archaeological or literary evidence to indicate that Samhain was a deity. The Celtic Gods of the dead were Gwynn ap Nudd for the British, and Arawn for the Welsh. The Irish did not have a "lord of death" as such. Thus most of the customs connected with Halloween are remnants of the ancient religious beliefs and rituals, first of the Druids and then transcended amongst the Roman Christians who conquered them.
 

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Funeral Crasher
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Yea, I love the History Channel's "Haunted History of Halloween". I hope they show it this season!
 

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This part is disputable:
In the second half of the nineteenth century, America was flooded with new immigrants. These new immigrants, especially the millions of Irish fleeing Ireland's potato famine of 1846, helped to popularize the celebration of Halloween nationally. Taking from Irish and English traditions, Americans began to dress up in costumes and go house to house asking for food or money, a practice that eventually became today's "trick-or-treat" tradition.
There is no evidence that the American trick-or-treating is a practice brought over from Ireland or Britain. The Irish potato famine was in the 1840s, yet ritual begging on Halloween was virtually unknown in North America before the 1930s, and did not become widespread until after World War II. In other words, more than a hundred years later.

The thousands of Halloween postcards produced between the turn of the 20th century and the 1920s commonly show children but do not depict trick-or-treating. The editor of a collection of over 3,000 vintage Halloween postcards writes,
There are cards which mention the custom [of trick-or-treating] or show children in costumes at the doors, but as far as we can tell they were printed later than the 1920s and more than likely even the 1930s. Tricksters of various sorts are shown on the early postcards, but not the means of appeasing them.
And contrary to the migration of immigrants from the East coast westward, trick-or-treating moved in the opposite direction, becoming popular in the western U.S. and Canada before moving eastward. Ruth Edna Kelley, in her 1919 history of the holiday, The Book of Hallowe'en, makes no mention of ritual begging in the chapter "Hallowe'en in America." Kelley lived in Lynn, Massachusetts, a town with about 4,500 Irish immigrants, 1,900 English immigrants, and 700 Scottish immigrants in 1920.
 

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(snip) yet ritual begging on Halloween was virtually unknown in North America before the 1930s, and did not become widespread until after World War II.
Are you sure? In the reportedly semi-autobiographical A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith describes the heroine and hero Francie and Neely wearing "Chinaman" masks with "sleezy...mustaches" (for some reason that sticks out in my mind) and going to local vendors, looking for goodies to put in their sacks. The vendors knew they'd better give out treats if they wanted the kids to come back and buy penny candies from their stores later. The heroine was born around 1900. (And Betty Smith was born in the very late 1800s.)

The book was written well before WWII and was a recollection of decades before.

I'm not saying The History Channel is always right--in fact they often "whitewash" stuff (though I'm not dissing them) or glaze over/combine facts...but in this instance, we're talking about a first-hand recollection that would have dated to the turn of the 19th to 20th century.

ETA: Betty Smith (and the characters in A Tree) lived in Williamsburg (Brooklyn).
 

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Yea, I love the History Channel's "Haunted History of Halloween". I hope they show it this season!
I love it too. I'm a history buff so I see where there are things left out, etc...but...watching Haunted History is practically a tradition in our household by now. It's like watching It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. And it never, ever fails to get me in the Halloween mood.

I love Haunted History.
 

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Good call, Mel! Thanks. However, Betty Smith writes (in Chapter 26) that this was done on Thanksgiving Day in Brooklyn, not on Halloween.

There are a handful of reports of ritual begging on Halloween before 1934. The earliest is in Kingston, Ontario (near upstate New York) in 1911. A newspaper account describes a practice almost identical to what Betty Smith recalls from Brooklyn, where children went from shop to shop (not home to home) for treats.

But these handful of early 20th-century accounts are isolated, and before 1911, nothing. Newspapers across the U.S. regularly reported on Hallowe'en parties and hijinks of the day (lots of vandalism, unfortunately), but nobody reports ritual begging. When trick-or-treating starts to become popular in the 1930s and 1940s, you see letters to the editor by adults bewildered by this juvenile extortion, and mostly deploring it.
 

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Good call, Mel! Thanks. However, Betty Smith writes (in Chapter 26) that this was done on Thanksgiving Day in Brooklyn, not on Halloween.
Haha, there's that "sleezy mustaches" quote I remember! I don't know why that sticks so much in my mind.

I love that book...I read it many times as a young girl.

So what is it then that began the ritual of "begging" or ToTing?
 

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My guess is that ritual begging on other holidays (Mardi Gras, Christmas wassailing, and this Thanksgiving Day practice Betty Smith describes) just eventually migrated to Halloween.
 

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AKA - S.M. Barrett
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I think that's a decent guess, that trick or treating was a borrowed tradition from other holidays. While certain elements may have older roots, such as threats of mischief and costuming, as a complete tradition it's barely a century old in America, if that.

I would be curious as to how far back the tradition goes in other countries, namely Ireland and Scotland. Begging customs have always been big in those countries, with wassailing at Christmas and hunting the wren on St. Stephen's Day.

I always enjoyed the idea of the older American holiday, a reaction to Victorian norms. In the 1800's in America it was a courtship holiday, one of the few times of the year that young men and women were allowed a little revelry and night time frivolity in each other's company. Ghost stories got the girls to snuggle, boys tried to prank each other, apples were bobbed for, blindfold tag and kiss stealing were popular, and lots of spiritual games were played to divine future husbands and wives, such as mirror gazing, water scrying, apple cutting, checking fireplace ashes and even outright seances. It was all ghosts, magic and romance for the young adults of the victorian era. No surprise it survived, different as may be these days. It was always a creepy, magical and thrilling holiday, it just adapted to the generations that picked it up as the decades rolled by.
 

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As I was reading this it sounded like a History Channel piece, pretty much derived from their documentary, nice stuff.

Melanie this is a bit off topic but you stated your a history buff..that is so cool..I am into history as well..a bit off topic as I said earlier but what kind of history do you read and or watch documentaries on??
 

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Thanks, guys...that does make sense...that not every Halloween tradition would have come from a former Halloween or Samhain one. Most of our holidays are blends.

As I was reading this it sounded like a History Channel piece, pretty much derived from their documentary, nice stuff.

Melanie this is a bit off topic but you stated your a history buff..that is so cool..I am into history as well..a bit off topic as I said earlier but what kind of history do you read and or watch documentaries on??
Oh, huzzah! Another history buff! My favorite time periods are:

1. Approximately bronze age prehistory to about our "year zero" so to speak (so this would probably fall largely under the umbrella of archaeology rather than written history except in certain areas...or anthropology since it's how societies act that always fascinates me)

2. Non-cromagnon ancient prehistory (including other hominids, animals, and even plants)

3. The early middle ages (the so-termed Dark Ages)

4. The late middle ages (usually starting from the Black Death in the 14th century; I don't mind the high middle ages in the center, just not as fascinating to me)

5. "Pioneer"-days America (around the mid-19th century to the close of the century)

How about you? PM me! I have taken this soooo far off track. :p Although the point did have to do with history.

If anyone else has Halloween history...please post it! There's no such thing as too much information, in my book...it is fascinating.
 
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