Origin of Halloween

Astrid Ressler, Copy Editor

The popularization of Halloween in the United States comes directly from the Irish potato famine and the massive immigration of the Irish in the 1840s. Many Old World traditions were brought over with them to America during this time.

Souling and guising were the original names for what is now recognized as trick-or-treating. Children would go around to different houses dressed in disguises (hence ‘guising’) usually made of straw or other natural materials and ask for food in exchange for the offering of prayers for the dead in that household.

Modern trick-or-treating did not begin in the United States until after the second World War. With modern trick-or-treating, children now dress up in costumes and receive candy as opposed to real food.

The ‘trick’ part of trick-or-treating was much more common in the late 1800s than it is now, surprisingly. Tipping over outhouses (especially if someone was in it), opening farm gates to let animals escape, and egging houses were all very common tricks at that time. Some major cities would report hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages after each year’s “celebrations.”

Another very common association with Halloween that came over with the Irish immigrants is the belief that only on Halloween could spirits of deceased ancestors rise from the dead and roam freely for the night.

Witches, ghosts, and ghouls were generally the most popular costumes for Halloween until after World War II when companies began to mass-produce costumes of all kinds and commercialize the holiday.

Today, children and adults alike have the opportunity to dress up as famous politicians or popular movie stars among the thousands of other choices that are found in multiple stores during this time of the year. Witches and ghosts are still popular costumes, but so many other options exist to choose from that the classics are not seen as much.

For one night of each year, people can be anyone or anything that they want to be, and that’s what makes our modern Halloween so fun!

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