Halloween is a fine blend of pagan tradition, Christian influence, and the American media. Its earliest inception is believed to have stemmed from the ancient Celtic celebration of Samhain, a harvest festival commemorating the beginning of the new Wheel of the (harvest) Year. Samhain occurs during a time when it is thought that the veil between this world and the afterlife is at its thinnest, allowing ghosts and otherworldly spirits to roam about the earth. While many people embraced this time as a chance to reconnect with the spirits of beloved people and pets, others were fearful and wore masks and/or costumes to disguise themselves so the spirits would leave them alone.
The custom of 'guising" goes back to 16th century Britain and Ireland. Guising, dressing up in costume and going door to door in search of money or food, was a Scottish tradition that spread throughout the land and eventually to Ontario, Canada where it was first recorded in North America in 1911. In the earlier days, guisers, or mummers, would have to earn their 'treat' by performing a song, reciting verse, or doing something to entertain their benefactor. If a person answered the door and attempted to shoo the guisers away, they retaliated with threats of mischief - tricks.
Early Christians shared 'soul-cakes' at Allhallowtide (Oct 31 - Nov 2). Known as 'Souling', people would initially visit houses and bring soul cakes in return for prayers said for mercy on all Christian souls. In later years, the practice evolved into singing at churches for soul cakes. The Christian holy days of All Saints and All Souls (Nov. 1 & 2) grew from Allhallowtide as well.
The tradition of trick-or-treating incorporates both guising and souling, but didn't really begin to evolve until the early 20th century. The popularity of sending postcards for Halloween was right up there with Christmas and birthdays, but the act of "trick-or-treat" wasn't depicted on cards in those early years, nor was the phrase widely used Sugar rationing in America as a result of World War II put Halloween trick-or-treats on hold for the duration of the war. But the practice picked up again in the media through children's magazines and several popular radio shows.
In the early 1950s, trick-or-treating got a boost from two heavy hitters in the cartoon industry. American illustrator Charles Schulz, creator of the Peanuts comic strip, featured the gang "Halloween ghosting" in three of his popular strips that ran October 29, 30, and 31, 1951. In 1952, Walt Disney Productions created the short animated film, TRICK OR TREAT, featuring Donald Duck and his impish nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie. Halloween and the tradition of trick-or-treating continued to take off from there, becoming so popular that the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) started an annual campaign to raise funds as children went door to door on Halloween night.
Halloween is now big business in the United States.. Costumes can be found in sizes for infants to adults - and let's not forget the huge market for pets. Still, the basic roots of this annual tradition remain.
Wishing everyone a safe and happy Halloween!
- Barbara 🙃
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