The Evolution Of Halloween: How The Holiday Became A Ridiculous Event In America

by John Haltiwanger

If you grew up in the United States, there's a high probability that you absolutely love Halloween. It's a night of tomfoolery that only occurs once a year.

If you dressed up as a ninja and stalked around peoples' houses asking for free candy any other night of the year, you'd probably get arrested. But on Halloween, you get free rein to act like a lunatic -- within reason of course.

There are costumes, free candy, hay rides, apple bobbing, scary movies, pumpkin-flavored beer, parades and parties. It's beautiful -- and it's not surprising that this holiday has evolved into such a ridiculous event in America today. Americans actually spend around $6 billion on Halloween every year.

Interestingly enough, Halloween was not invented in the United States, it actually has ancient origins and was celebrated far before Europeans arrived in North America.

Here's how Halloween evolved into the crazy event it is today:

Halloween is derived from the Celtic festival of Samhain.

Two-thousand years ago, the Celts celebrated the end of the harvest season with the festival of Samhain (sah-win) on November 1. This was basically a big party to say goodbye to summer and hello to winter. As winter is cold, dark, damp and depressing, it was a time of year associated with death.

The Celts believed that the dead returned as ghosts on the night before Samhain (October 31). Accordingly, they put out offerings of food and other goods to appease these spirits. Likewise, in order to fit in with all of the ghosts that were out and about, they'd put on masks and costumes to avoid being possessed.

The Romans conquered a great deal of Celtic territory around 43 AD. One of their festivals put a great deal of emphasis on the apple as a symbol. Apparently, this is where the practice of bobbing for apples originated.

In the 8th Century, the Christian Church changed Samhain to "All Saints' Day."

In the 8th Century, the Christian Church changed Samhain into "All Saint's Day," also known as "All Hallows."

The night before it was "Hallows Eve." Eventually, this evolved into "Halloween."

"Trick or Treat?" comes from two medieval European practices.

Trick-or-treating is derived from the medieval British practices of "souling" and "guising."

November 2 is "All Souls' Day," on which the needy would beg for pastries called soul cakes. In exchange, they would pray for the dead relatives of whoever showed them generosity. This practice was known as "souling," the medieval version of asking for a treat.

Likewise, the medieval version of asking if someone wanted a "trick" was known as "guising." On Halloween, medieval children would dress up in costumes and offer a song, poem or joke in exchange for food, wine and money.

We can thank the Irish for St. Patrick's Day and Halloween.

At first, Halloween was not a very popular holiday in America due to the prudish mentality of the Protestants who inhabited the colonies. These people were a bunch of party poopers: all work, no play.

In the 19th century, however, Irish immigrants saved the day. To escape the devastating consequences of the Irish Potato Famine, mass numbers of Irish folk migrated to the United States during this time. In the process, they brought over their traditions.

In conjunction with Scottish immigrants, they reintroduced the practice of trick-or-treating as well as other traditions associated with Halloween. After all, the Scots and Irish are the descendants of the Celts.

By the 1950s, Halloween became the family-friendly, children-oriented holiday that it is today.

From an ancient Celtic festival to the streets of America, this is now the second most commercial holiday in the United States after Christmas.

Happy Halloween, my friends!

Photo Courtesy: Buena Vista Pictures/Hocus Pocus