A Short History of Halloween

Happy Halloween

What we know as Halloween began more than 3,000 years ago as the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain (Gaelic for November and pronounced “sah-win.”) It was a festival to celebrate the end of the harvest season, and used by the ancient pagans to take stock of supplies and prepare for colder weather. It was also a time when they asked their Druid priests to pray for them and their familes as they faced the coming dark days of winter. The ancient Gaels believed that on October 31, the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead were at their thinnest, and because the two worlds overlapped, the deceased could come back to life and cause all manner of havoc even causing harm such as spreading sickness or by damaging crops.

During Samhain, it was believed that the dead needed to be appeased to ensure that the people and their livestock survived the winter. Offerings of food and drink, or portions of the crops, were left outside for them, and the souls of the dead were also said to revisit their homes seeking hospitality. Places were set at the dinner table and by the fire to welcome them.

The festival would usually involve bonfires. Most historians believe that the fires attracted insects , which then attracted bats to the area, which is why bats are considered a Halloween symbol, In Wales, bonfires were lit in order to prevent the souls of the dead from falling to earth, and, still later, the fires were used to”keep away the Devil.”>

By the Middle Ages, with the Church ascendant, the holiday became known as All Hallows Eve, eventually, of course, becoming Halloween. Masks and costumes were worn in an attempt to mimic the evil spirits, or scare them away. The practice of dressing up in costumes and begging door to door for treats on holidays also goes back to the Middle Ages. Trick-or-treating, is an activity for children in which they proceed from house to house in costumes, asking for treats such as confectionery with the question, “Trick or treat?” The “trick” part of “trick or treat” was a threat to play a trick on the homeowner or his property if no treat was given. Trick-or-treating is one of the main traditions of Halloween.

Apples are also associated with Halloween, both as a treat and in the game of bobbing for apples, a game that since the colonial era in America was used for fortune-telling. Legend has it that the first person to pluck an apple from the water-filled bucket without using his or her hands would be the first to marry.

Apples were also part of another form of marriage prophecy. According to legend, on Halloween (sometimes at the stroke of midnight), young women would peel an apple into one continuous strip and throw it over her shoulder. The apple skin would supposedly land in the shape of the first letter of her future husband’s name.

Known in the North American continent since colonial days, by the middle of the twentieth century Halloween had become largely a children’s holiday.” Since that time, the holiday’s popularity increased dramatically as adults, communities and institutions (such as schools, campuses and commercial haunted houses) have embraced the event.
Halloween has now become as big a holiday for adults as it has for children. Many companies have Halloween costume judging, and Halloween parties are growing in popularity.

Through the ages, various supernatural entities — including fairies and witches — came to be associated with Halloween, and more than a century ago in Ireland, the event was said to be a time when spirits of the dead could return to their old haunting grounds. Dressing up as ghosts or witches became fashionable, though as the holiday became more widespread and more commercialized (and with the arrival of mass-manufactured costumes), the selection of disguises for kids and adults greatly expanded beyond monsters to include everything from superheroes to princesses to politicians.


In the early 20th century, postcards became the primary means of communicating. Postage was one cent, and illustrated cards began to proliferate, showing everything from flowers to animals, and from worthy sayings to cityscapes. Holidays were another populat subject as well, and Halloween wasn’t ignored. Presenting six vintage Halloween cards.

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