The History of Halloween
Today Halloween is celebrated on October 31. Cities and communities around the world have embraced the idea of trick or treating, also known as 'beggars night' in some areas. They've also embraced some other ideas such as dressing up in costumes, setting out carved pumpkins, and even eating certain candies like candy corn. Yet many people are unaware of the real roots of Halloween.
The history of Halloween dates back to ancient Celtic times. The Celtics held an annual festival known as Samhain. The festival was their chance to make sure everything was ready for the colder months and to take an inventory of their crops. October 31 was supposedly chosen because this was the last day of harvesting and a time when the dead would walk the earth. They believed that they had to get things arranged and settled on that day or else the dead would ruin their crops.
The Celtic origins also explain some certain rituals used throughout Halloween history. They held bonfires as part of their celebration. The fires brought out the insects, which were in turn eaten by bats flying into the area. The participants put on masks, painted their faces, and wore costumes to remind themselves of the dead. These are all traits that are still done today such as using bat decorations and wearing costumes to give out candy. In addition, they would place carved vegetables in their windows as a reminder of the dead. Early vegetables were turnips, but this evolved into the tradition of carving pumpkins as they were easier to find and carve in North America.
The idea of trick or treating dates back to the Middle Ages. November 1 was the holiday of Hallomas and November 2 was All Souls Day. On November 1, the poor would exchange promises of prayers on All Souls Day for food given that day by going door to door. In 1900 stories began appearing in newspapers of small children going out on Halloween night in costumes and singing songs in exchange for treats. By the 1930s trick or treating was an accepted part of Halloween.
There's some historical evidence that many of the traditions celebrated today came from Irish immigrants during the late 19th century. Hundreds of thousands moved to the United States to escape the Great Potato Famine, bringing their traditions with them. Those ideas were changed slightly by outsiders to the traditions and ideas that are still celebrated today.
One of the best places to look for information on Halloween history is The Real Story of Halloween on the History Channel. In addition to videos and pictures, they have several articles and stories that trace the origins of Halloween and explain the differences found today. The History of Halloween is another great website that offers a short explanation of how the holiday evolved over time.
The Halloween History website is also useful and they offer an in depth explanation of the holiday and how it changed over time. There's also the Halloween entry at Wikipedia, which discusses a lot of current traditions associated with Halloween.
The Pumpkin Patches and More website also has a long explanation of the holiday's origins and how some of the original facets are still used today. Other useful resources include Halloween Magazine, Halloween is Here and History and Customs of Halloween.