What first comes into mind when we say “Halloween”?
Some of the words associated may be trick-or-treating, ghosts, spiders, bats, bobbing for apples, jack-o-lanterns, costumes and what not… and that the celebration is a very ‘American’ thing to do.
BUT IT REALLY IS NOT SO AMERICAN
About 2000 years ago, 31st of October was known as the eve of Samhain (the day following marked the end of the harvest season, pronounced sow-ween). According to ancient Celtic belief, that night was when dead people would come back to life. People would leave food and wine at their doorstep to keep roaming spirits away, and wore masks or disguises when they went out so that they would be mistaken as part of the roaming spirits too.
The Christian church changed Samhain into All Saints’ Day or All Hallows’ Day in the 8th century (1 November), which the night before would be known as All Hallows’ Eve, later shortened to Halloween.
SO WHAT ABOUT TRICK-OR-TREATING?
This actually started as Souling or Guising, and they all originated from Medieval Britain:
– Souling is when the needy would beg for pastries (soul cakes – much like the hot cross bun but minus the cross and currants) on 2November, in return for prayers to the giver’s dead relatives.
– Guising is when young people would dress up in costumes and accept food, wine, money or other offerings in exchange for some singing, jokes or poetry.
– Trick-or-Treating was a revision of Souling and Guising by the Irish and Scottish immigrants in 19th century America. At first, people preferred to do the pranks or hijinks, but it wasn’t until the 1950s when Halloween became more family-friendly, like what it is today.
HALLOWEEN IS BIG BUSINESS…
In America, at least. It is said that Americans would spend up to $2.5 billion on costumes a year. If you add the candy to that, it is estimated that the collective amount spent is up to $6 billion annually, making Halloween the second most commercial holiday after Christmas. Now how about that?