Halloween has always been very illustrative of a harvest's end. Corn shocks in their neat piles occupying endless fields on farmlands. Pumpkins, bright orange in the sunlight, are glowing along with a cascade of colors produced by the leaves ready to fall. This is all so reminiscent of a grand finale of fireworks exploding in daylight instead of night time. Nature seems to be putting on its last big show before the drudgery of winter sets in. During this time of a joyful harvest, Halloween just seems to fit in with the splendid scenery and colorful hues.
The Celts were people who lived in the area that became Ireland, Britain and Northern France some 2,000 years ago. As legend and history has it, their New Year was celebrated on Nov. 1. This day also marked harvest's end and the beginning of the dreaded winter. They celebrated what they called Samhain on the night of Oct. 31. On that night, they believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. The Celts held celebrations for this holiday. They wore costumes that were made from animal heads and skins. By 43 A.D., the Romans took over much of the Celts' territory and initiated their own celebrations, combining the Celtic Samhain with their own version, called Feralia, where the ritual of bobbing for apples was originated - so they say. It seemed by the 800s, Christianity spread to the land of the Celts, and Pope Boniface IV redesignated Nov. 1 as All Saints Day, which was also called All-Hallows or All-Hallowmas, which eventually became Halloween. They dressed in costumes of devils, angels and saints.
When English immigrants arrived on the shores of America, along with their prized possessions, they also brought their prized Halloween customs with them. They, of course, celebrated their harvest, held parties, told frightening stories of the dead and ghosts. Mischief making was also part of their criteria. It seems that by the second half of the 19th century, there was a flood of American immigrants, mostly Irish, who came to our country. They immediately seemed to popularize Halloween nationally with their beliefs and traditions of that sacred day. At this time Americans began to dress up in costumes and go from house to house begging for food and money. Thus the era of trick-or-treating began.
At the turn of the 20th century, Halloween parties for adults and children became quite common. Those parties included games, food, cold cider and, of course, outlandish costumes that were usually judged and awarded prizes. There seemed to be a change at this time also as parents were encouraged to take anything frightening out of Halloween celebrations and parties. By doing so, Halloween seemed to lose its luster and superstitious overtones. However, most of that has returned.
Of course, there have always been forms of vandalism during Halloween. Pranksters sometimes didn't know when to stop as damage to homes and property began to surface. We used to throw shelled corn at people's windows and also soap their windows if a treat was not offered. This though was part of trick or treating. Was I bad?
Halloween today mainly is for the young. Trick-or-treating is more popular than ever, and hardly ever a trick is played. Parties themselves have moved to classrooms and homes. Different service groups have purchased old homes, building their own haunted houses, charging admission for people to get scared stiff. They raise great funds that way for their causes and for their communities. Their array of scares includes ghosts, monsters, witches, goblins and that scary maniac with a chainsaw who chases everybody and is always a big hit.
Of course, just like every other holiday, Halloween today is vastly commercialized. It is said that Americans spend an estimated $6.9 billion annually on Halloween. That's a lot of candy, costumes, brooms, black cats, witches, jack-o-lanterns and just plain pumpkins.