A lengthy history of bizzare holiday rituals

Laura Welch

Halloween is a strange holiday.  Everyone from little kids to adults dresses up as ghosts, demons, witches and other seriously scary creatures. Strangers knock on other strangers’ doors and get candy. Carving a face into a big hollow pumpkin is totally normal, and even encouraged. One would think that, with such bizarre customs, people would question why they are practiced. The truth is that most people do not know the actual origins of a holiday they have probably celebrated their whole lives.

“Doesn’t Halloween have something to do with Cinco de Mayo?” asks one confused freshman, who, once corrected, asked to remain anonymous.

What she probably was thinking of is really called Day of the Dead, an ancient Aztec holiday celebrated in Mexico on Nov. 1 and 2 that is often associated with Halloween.

Freshman Dan Gelwicks takes a guess at how Halloween started.

“I think that, if I remember correctly from my 12 years of Catholic education, Halloween has to do with All Saints’ or All Souls’ Day,” he says.

In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV made Nov. 1 All Saints’ Day. Christians often referred to All Saints’ Day as Day of All Hallows, making the night before All Hallows Eve. This title was eventually shortened to Halloween.

The customs we currently celebrate on Halloween can be traced back over 2,000 years ago to the Ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. The Celts celebrated their new year on Nov. 1 and believed that on that day, the world of the dead return to the land of the living and take over their souls. On Oct. 31, Celtic priests called Druids held sacred bonfires that people attended in different costumes meant to disguise them from the dead.

Other Halloween traditions formed much later, such as the practice of carving pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns. Making jack-o-lanterns started in America in the 1800s when Irish immigrants continued their tradition in the new country. The custom comes from a story of a man named Jack who tricked the devil. As punishment, the devil made him wander around for eternity with only one burning coal in a gourd. This was the lantern of Jack, or the jack-o-lantern.

Although the jack-o-lantern is the most recognizable symbol of Halloween, trick-or-treating is the most anticipated activity.

“Trick-or-treating was the best, but I have no idea why we do it,” student Rachael Koehler says. “It’s kind of weird if you think about it. I think maybe the candy companies just made it up.”

In actuality, trick-or-treating can be traced back to All Souls’ Day parades in the eighth century. During these parades, poor people would go around and beg for cakes from families. In exchange, the poor promised to pray for their dead relatives. Trick-or-treating as we know it in America was revived during the middle of the 20th century as a way to bring neighborhood communities closer together and has since become an American tradition. With Americans spending $6.9 billion on Halloween annually, it is the second largest commercial holiday.