History Unlocked – October 2017, Halloween!
By: Karen Dingle Kendus, Concord Township Historical Society
I have always loved Halloween. Since I was born early Halloween morning, my parents always made sure we did Halloween completely. Our old farmhouse was decked out in decorations, and my creative parents would make a different costume every year. And they would dress up too. Halloween was not just for children in our house. Every birthday party was a costume party, and everyone dressed up. My parents skinned grapes for “eyeballs” and boiled spaghetti for “entrails.” As I got older, and trick or treating was no longer appropriate, my best friend’s parents held their annual Halloween party for children and parents alike.
Halloween has always been a secular holiday in our house and with our friends. Most Americans, by now, have few religious or superstitious ties to Halloween. Origins of the American celebration extend back at least 2000 years to what is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France, where the Celtic people lived. The Celts celebrated Samhain, which marked the end of summer and harvest, and then beginning of winter or the “darker half” of the year. They dressed in animal heads and skins and burned crops and animals at the town bonfire as a sacrifice to Celtic deities. Druids, (Celtic priests), used the thin space between living and dead to make predictions of future events, which the Celtic people relied on. At the end of the celebration, the townsfolk would relight their hearth fires with the fire of the blessed bonfire to protect them in the coming winter months.
Religion, as we know it, did not enter the realm of Halloween until the Romans conquered Celtic lands around 43 AD. The Romans brought two of their own festivals with them. The first, Feralia, was celebrated in late October and commemorated the passing of the dead. The second, Pomona, was to celebrate the goddess of fruit and trees. Goddess Pomona’s symbol was the apple, and historians believe this might have been the origin of “bobbing” for apples, which is a pastime Americans have today. The two Roman festivals combined with Samhain, but many of the activities remained the same, including the bonfire. Sometime between 731 and 71 AD, Pope Gregory III All Martyrs Day from May 13th to November 1st and added all saints (not just martyrs) to the day, creating All Saints’ Day. Historians believe this was an attempt to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related but church- sanctioned holiday.
Halloween in the New England colonies were not widely celebrated because of the rigid Protestant belief system, but elements of Halloween were popular in Maryland and more southern colonies. In locations where Halloween traditions took hold, many were combined with Native American customs, celebrating the harvest and sharing stories of the dead. Colonial Halloween celebrations also featured the telling of ghost stories and making mischief.
Halloween did not take hold across the country until after an influx of immigrants around the mid-19th century, especially from Ireland. They popularized the celebration of Halloween and American started to dress up and go house to house asking for food or money. By the mid-20th century, town leaders promoted Halloween has a children’s holiday, and families across town handed out candy to prevent mischief by the neighborhood children. Trick or treating, as we know it today, was born. Today, Americans spend $6 billion annually on Halloween costumes, candy, food, and festivities.
Halloween this year falls on a Tuesday, but Concord Township has a Harvest Festival and Halloween parade scheduled for Saturday, October 28th at the Park and Recreation Building, 40 Bethel Road. In good old Halloween tradition, come out and enjoy the community festivities, harvest celebrations, and costumes!
The History Channel. 2017. Bet You Didn’t Know: Halloween; http://www.history.com/topics/halloween/history-of-halloween, Accessed: 8/28/2017.