In the second half of the 19th century, America experienced a flood of new immigrants. Millions came from Ireland, fleeing the country’s potato famine of 1846. Amongst traditions that were carried over, Halloween became very popular nationally. Following Irish and English traditions, Americans started to dress up in costumes, going house-to-house, asking for food or money. This eventually became today’s “Trick-or-treat” tradition.
Young women believed that on Halloween, they could bewitch the name or the appearance of their future husbands and many ricks with Yarn, apple parings and mirrors were practised.
Gradually, the holiday was moulded into a community and neighbourly get-togethers, focus that was overcoming the one about ghosts, pranks and witchcraft.
At the turn of the century, Halloween parties for adults and children were common. The focus was on games, foods and costumes. You could say that media influence had a lot to do with the fact that fun overpowered anything frightening and grotesque out of Halloween celebrations. Most of the superstitions and religious overtones were lost by the beginning of the twentieth century.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Halloween became a real community holiday. Parades and town parties were common, but despite the efforts of schools and communities, these were plagued by vandalism. The efforts of adults were then concentrated on helping the holiday to be directed mainly at children. Trick or treating became a relatively inexpensive way for the entire community to share the Halloween celebration. The tradition was born and continued to grow.
And the name?
Halloween – or the Hallow E’en as the Irish called it – means All Hallows Eve. That is the night before All Hallows or All Saints, traditionally observed on November 1st. In old English, the word “Hallow” meant “Sanctify”. Numerous religions, including Roman Catholics, Episcopalians and Lutherans used to observe All Hallows Day to honour All Saints in heaven. It sued to be considered with all solemnity as one of the most significant observances of the Church year.
And the Ghosts?
As the story has it, the disembodied spirits of all those who had died in the preceding year were coming back to poses living bodies for the next year. It was believed that by finding a body was their only hope for afterlife and that during this time, the spirit world could intermingle with the living, because all laws of space and time were suspended.
Naturally, the living did not wish to be posses – so on October 31st, fires were extinguished in homes, making them cold and undesirable. People would then dress up in ghoulish costumes and paraded around noisily to frighten away spirits looking for bodies.
All those are things of the past – today, it is estimated that Americans spend an estimated $6.9 billion on Halloween, making it the country’s second largest commercial holiday.
What About the Jack-O-Lantern?
The name Jack-O-Lantern is closely associated with Halloween and there are several versions of where the name comes from.
The most popular one tells a legend of a man named Stingy Jack, who invited the Devil to have drink. When it was time to pay, he convinced the Devil to change into a sixpence – but instead of paying for the drink, he put the money into his pocket. He kept it beside a silver cross and that stopped the Devil from changing back. Jack made a deal with the Devil that he will not punish him if he is freed. The next Halloween, Jack died and when he came to heaven’s Gate, he was turned back. He went to the gates of Hell, but the devil turned him back as well, because Jack made him promise not to take his soul. Jack was afraid to go back, because it was dark and he couldn’t find his way. The Devil tossed Jack a glowing coal, which Jack put into a turnip and that is how Jack-O-Lantern happened. And the legend further claims that Stingy Jack’s lonely soul has been roaming the Earth.
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