Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Brief History of Halloween

From today's Writer's Almanac:

It's Halloween, one of the oldest holidays in the Western European tradition, invented by the Celts, who believed Halloween was the day of the year when spirits, ghosts, faeries, and goblins walked the earth. The tradition of dressing up and getting candy probably started with the Celts as well. Historians believe that they dressed up as ghost and goblins to scare away the spirits, and they would put food and wine on their doorstep for the spirits of family members who had come back to visit the home.

Pope Gregory III turned Halloween into a Christian holiday in the eighth century, and people were encouraged to dress up as saints and give food to the poor. But when Irish Catholics brought the Celtic traditions to the United States, Halloween became a holiday for them to let off steam by pulling pranks, hoisting wagons onto barn roofs, releasing cows from their pastures, and committing all kinds of mischief involving outhouses. Treats evolved as a way to bribe the vandals and protect homes.

It wasn't until the early 20th century that Halloween became a holiday for children. In 1920, the Ladies' Home Journal made the first known reference to children going door to door for candy, and by the 1950s it was a universal practice in this country. By the end of the 20th century, 92 percent of America's children were trick-or-treating. Tonight, about 70 percent of American households will open their doors and offer candy to children, and Halloween parties are becoming increasingly popular among adults. It's the one day a year that people can freely dress as the opposite gender, as criminals, superheroes, celebrities, animals, or even inanimate objects. But retailers report that the most popular costumes remain some variation on witches, ghosts, and devils.

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According to Wikipedia, the phrase "trick-or-treat" first appeared in print about 1934, and in a national publication about 1939. The trend started in the western U.S. and spread eastward, stalling during WWII due to sugar rations but picking up again in 1947. By 1952 it was firmly established in American culture, at which time it was featured in the Disney cartoon Trick or Treat. It was also the year that the Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF campaign started, in which children ask for UNICEF donations instead of candy.

For more Halloween history, a list of haunted sites, ghost stories and much more, visit the History Channel's awesome Halloween website.

5 comments:

Tempest Knight said...

Happy Halloween chica! :)

Heather said...

Thanks Tempest -- Happy Halloween/Samhain to you as well!

Jack's Shack said...

Happy Halloween

Jana said...

Cool facts I didn't know! Hope you Halloween was a good one.

BTW, been meaning to say THANKS for the card. It's adorable. :)

Heather said...

Thanks, Jack - and to you as well.

Thanks, Jana - you're welcome! *g*