Origins of Halloween celebrations in the United States

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Mon Oct 29, 2018

Students across Illinois Tech’s campus are preparing to celebrate Halloween, which takes place on Wednesday, October 31, 2018. Already, the school has hosted Halloween themed events, such as a haunted house, the annual Pumpkin Launch, and jack-o-lantern carving. Although fall would hardly seem complete without festivities such as these, they have not always been associated with Halloween. The history of the holiday began with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, a festival in which people would attempt to protect the area from ghosts by lighting bonfires and parading around in costumes. November 1 was when the Celtic people celebrated their new year, however this came with a harsh winter that they often associated with human death and bad spirits. They believed that on the night before November 1, these ghosts would return to Earth. The return had the potential to impact their harvest as well as human health. They would also make animal and crop sacrifices to appease the Celtic deities.

 Over time, other festivals were combined with Samhain. When the Roman Empire took over Celtic territory, Feralia, another festival, was celebrated to honor the passing of the dead. The Romans also celebrated Pomona, the goddess of fruit and trees. Pomona is commonly symbolized by an apple, which is where the tradition of bobbing for apples likely comes from. When Pope Gregory III was in power during the 8th century, he declared that November 1 was to be All Saints Day. November 2 was also known as All Souls Day, which commemorated the dead. All Saints Day began to incorporate many of the same ideas that the Romans celebrated during this time of the year, therefore, the people referred to the evening before All Saints Day as All Hallows Eve. The name of this holiday comes from the word “Alholowmesse,” which means All Saints Day in Middle English.

Halloween was altered when it came to America and only specific regions took well to the celebrations. For a long time, seasonal festivities took place that celebrated the harvest. At these events, people would share stories of those who had died. They would enjoy music and attempt to tell each other’s fortunes. As a flood of immigrants came to the U.S. later in the 19th century, Halloween became more common and solidified in the hearts of many.

Perhaps the most current ways in which Americans participate in Halloween today are through trick-or-treating and parties. In the late 1800s, many people began to view Halloween as a time for communities to get together. The media even encouraged parents to take frightening aspects out of celebrations. Trick-or-treating was not common for quite some time after this movement began. At this point, much of the religious undertones were removed from the holiday. New forms of celebration were influenced by Irish and English immigrants. Young women would perform tricks with yarn, apple parings, or mirrors to determine information about their future husbands. Parties with games and food were held for neighbors to get together. With the baby boom of the 1950s, celebration of Halloween became focused around children, and trick-or-treating became popular once again because it was a cheap way for the entire community to be involved in the festivities. Communities began to embrace the frightening and mischievous aspects of Halloween celebrations once again as well.

Although the U.S. adopted its own form of celebration, many of the Halloween traditions citizens participate in today can be traced back to their origins. Whether we observe Halloween the way we do today because of the Celts, the Irish, the English or whoever else, for centuries it has brought joy to the hearts of many all across the country.

 

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2018 - Fall - Issue 8
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