Your kitchen’s full of savory treats and there’s much candy to be scored. Dad’s running around trying to get little Ryan to put on his Thor costume, Samantha’s hogging the bathroom to touch up her rockabilly make up while snap chatting everyone, and mom’s going overboard on too much candy for the guest bowl. Get your pumpkin buckets ready everyone, this is Halloween! Be prepared to walk for hours in your best costume searching for the biggest candy bar at the Jones house on the corner that is covered in spider webs and dead bones. As you rush into your car, have you ever stopped to think, why are we doing this? Has the origin of this goblin and ghouls smothered event ever made you think twice why half of America is roaming around the streets at night in bizarre get-ups ringing doorbells for thousands of sugar calories?
Think no more. Interestingly, Halloween, was previously called “All Hallows’ Eve”. Folklorist John Santino has revealed that this celebration dates back 2000 years ago to a pre-Christian Celtic festival held around November first. The festival was called Samhain (pronounced “sah-win”), which translates to “summer’s end” in Gaelic, according to the Indo-European Etymological Dictionaries. Samhain was an annual communal meeting at the end of the harvest year and was not only known as a time to communicate with the dead, but also a time to gather supplies. Some folklorist believe that Samhain was a day where spirits could cross over from the other realm. However, some historians have come to believe that it’s a pagan ritual that’s now been on hyper drive into a giant party.
So where did the idea of costumes and candy come from? Santino concluded that the tradition of these festive ideas came from the practice of “mumming” and “guising” in ancient times. People would go around disguised door to door asking for food. It is also said that the practice might be related to a medieval custom from Britain, called “souling”. This took place on November first as the poor would knock on doors begging for food in exchange for prayers concerning the deceased. History proves that the act of “trick-or-treating” didn’t grace the United States until post World War II. We are not begging for food now, but come with the expectation of being given candy for no apparent reason other than our costumes are on and it is the evening of October thirty first. As most know, even if you don’t wear a costume, people will still bless you with candy.
Why do we come to doors with an empty threat? When you say “trick-or-treat” do people really answer with “trick”? Could you easily come to someone’s door and just say “may I have a piece of candy”? It wasn’t until the late 1800’s that the ritual of playing tricks on Halloween actually began. Tricks from the past included egging houses, tipping over outhouses, and by the 1920’s all hell broke loose as acts of vandalism became more severe. With thousands of Halloween prank compilations on YouTube today we don’t think of extremes like this. Instead we laugh at Jimmy Kimmel as parents are encouraged to prank their young children into believing that mommy and daddy ate their Halloween candy. Unfortunately Halloween pranks gone wrong can be worse than the 1920’s vandalism and lead to death as they did for Adrian Broadway in Arkansas who died last year from gunfire as she and her friends were performing a retaliation prank.
This year as you walk around dressed like Dorothy, or your preschool aged grandson sports a Thor costume, take a moment to remember the history of Halloween. It is not only fascinating, but sheds light on why we are participating in this silly sugar filled ritual. As you do, be sure to stay safe, and use wise judgement as this evening is not always just a treat. Go in groups throughout the neighborhood. Bring flashlights and make sure you have a fully charged cell phone. Don’t forget to thoroughly check your candy before consumption, and never forget the importance of keeping this event full of treats and leave the tricks out.