The date for Halloween was based on the Celtic celebration of Samhain. It was believed that ghosts, vampires and other “dark” creatures would be out and about during this festival. To appease them, households gave out food to the druids. The druids would go door to door to receive the offerings. The people also dressed up in costumes in order to fool any wandering bad guys.
The Celts were conquered by Rome, and they brought their own bit to our normal Halloween celebrations; the bobbing for apples. The goddess Pomona ruled over the harvest. She was often depicted sitting with a basket filled with fruits and flowers. The apple was especially important, and that eventually led to our custom of bobbing for apples. It helps that in some areas, that’s when apples are ripe enough to harvest.
When the Christians came to convert the druids and other religions, they followed a practice that had gone on in every culture they came across. There was the major rite of Samhain usually celebrated on the 31st of October. So, they set up All Saint’s Day for November 1st.
There was another change that eventually brought us trick or treating. The Catholic Church declared the 2nd of November as “All Soul’s Day” in honor of those who died but were not Catholic saints. On this date, the poor would go door to door “a-souling,” asking for food. While the two dates eventually combined to one, that of All Saint’s Day, the practice didn’t die.
Halloween wasn’t a common part of life in the U.S. until the mid 1800s. While areas of the South did have harvest festivals around the date, it wasn’t really considered a religious event. Children would often dress in costume for pageants, which brought us the idea of our children being in costume.
By the mid 1900s, Halloween had become a truly secular event, and the children would go door to door. In fact, in 1950, UNICEF had a money drive, and the children went door to door to collect it.
It has been interesting to watch the changes that have occurred in Halloween in my lifetime. When I was younger, many of the costumes were homemade, and not always well done. Others were plastic, apron like things with face masks. Believe me, it’s hard to breathe behind one of those masks. There was a fairly strict cut off age…when you got to old, if your parents wouldn’t let you, most of the adults wouldn’t give out the candy.
Now there are Halloween stores where you can buy just about anything you want. Costumes are much more real looking. You can buy fake blood, grave stones, ghosts and fog machines.
I’ve also discovered that there seems to be no age limit on trick or treating. I’ve had grown men…obviously over forty…knock on my door. (No, they did not get any candy.) Unless someone is trick or treating for a cause, my cut off is about age fifteen. If you’re older than that, you should be helping your parents give out candy.