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Time for a Coffin Break – History of Halloween

Happy Halloween week from Water Bear Marketing™! As the ghouls and goblins set out this week, we want to remind you that you have earned a coffee break (OR… do we mean coffin break?). Us water bears are excited to celebrate Halloween this year, because let’s face it, we love tricks and treats. Just kidding; we know Halloween isn’t all about the candy.

This year, before you go trick-or-treating or put on your trusty scarecrow and witch costumes (you guessed it, we will be water bears), take a little break and grab a coffee, and learn more about the history of Halloween with us. The holiday is much more interesting (and spookier!) than you thought.

We know you are eager to get to carving your pumpkins, so we have the provided the CliffsNotes version of the history of Halloween below. If you would like to learn about the full history of the holiday, visit History, to learn more.

Halloween is celebrated annually on October 31. The tradition originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints. Soon, All Saints Day incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before was known as All Hallows Eve, and later Halloween. 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.

By 43 A.D., the Roman Empire had conquered the majority of Celtic territory. During the 400 years that they ruled the Celtic lands, two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain. First, was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead. The second, was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple, and the incorporation of this celebration into Samhain likely explains the tradition of bobbing for apples that is practiced today on Halloween.

By the 9th century, the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands, where it gradually blended with and supplanted older Celtic rites. In 1000 A.D., the church made November 2 All Souls’ Day, a day to honor the dead. It’s widely believed today that the church was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, church-sanctioned holiday. All Souls’ Day was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels and devils. The All Saints’ Day celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints’ Day) and the night before it, the traditional night of Samhain in the Celtic religion, began to be called All-Hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween.

The celebration of Halloween was extremely limited in colonial New England because of the rigid Protestant belief systems there. Halloween was much more common in Maryland and the southern colonies. As the beliefs and customs of different European ethnic groups and the American Indians meshed, a distinctly American version of Halloween began to emerge. The first celebrations included “play parties,” which were public events held to celebrate the harvest. 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 19th century, annual autumn festivities were common, but Halloween was not yet celebrated everywhere in the country.

In the second half of the 19th century, America was flooded with new immigrants. These new immigrants, especially the millions of Irish fleeing the Irish Potato Famine, helped to popularize the celebration of Halloween nationally. Borrowing from European 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. One quarter of all the candy sold annually in the U.S. is purchased for Halloween.

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 these efforts, Halloween lost most of its superstitious and religious overtones by the beginning of the twentieth century.

Over time, Halloween has evolved into a day of activities like trick-or-treating, carving jack-o-lanterns, festive gatherings, wearing costumes and eating treats. As Halloween has continued to change; traditions are transforming. People, especially millennials, are buying costumes for their pets. Twenty percent did so in 2018, up from 16 percent in 2017 (History).

Who knows what other new Halloween traditions are to come as the holiday continues to revolutionize from century to century?! What we do know, is that all us water bears want to wish you a safe and frightening Halloween. So… Happy Halloween from Water Bear Marketing™. This year it will be extra spooky and truly “once in a blue moon”.