I don’t know if you’re like me, but I secretly miss trick-or-treating on Halloween. When I was a kid in Texas, it was a fun excuse to dress up in a crazy costume and have your parents escort you to the neighbors’ houses to gather a giant pillowcase filled with treats.
My brothers and I had a tradition where, after every trick-or-treat session, we’d convene a “meeting” upstairs in the game room and dump out all of our treasures to do inventory. There would always be the usual suspects like Snickers, or healthy stuff given out by the “fitness mommies,” like granola bars, or the random toothbrushes given out by our older neighbors (I guess to send a message that candy would give us cavities). Andrew, Taylor, and I would then operate a free market of sorts, bartering and trading away what candy we didn’t like for the ones we wanted. We had it down to a science–Andrew didn’t like chocolate very much and I did, I didn’t really care for Starburst and he loved them, and Taylor would pretty much eat everything. Those were my memories of Halloween.
Now, as other adults can attest, Halloween just isn’t the same. Let’s face it–grown men or women going trick-or-treating is, well, a sign that you haven’t quite gotten the message that it’s for kids. There are Halloween parties, of course, where you can still dress up in crazy costumes, but to me it just isn’t the same.
Thinking about Halloweens I spent as a child made me wonder about the actual history and international practice of the day. So, I did some research.
According to the History Channel’s website, the history of Halloween goes back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celts lived 2,000 years ago in what is now modern-day Ireland, the UK, and northern France, and they celebrated their new year on November 1 (hence why Halloween takes place on October 31). November 1 apparently symbolized the end of the summer, a.k.a. harvest time, and the beginning of the dark, cold winter. The Celts believed that, the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred and ghosts returned to cause all sorts of mischief.
To combat this mischief, the Druids (Celtic priests) would build giant bonfires for crop and animal sacrifices to try to deter the crazy ghosts, and the Celts would wear costumes and hang out by the bonfire. Of course, instead of dressing up like Nicki Minaj or Charlie Sheen (this year’s most popular Halloween costumes), the Celts would throw on some animal skins and call it good.
From the rest of the research I did, it sounds like modern Halloween traditions in Ireland and Canada are similar to the ones in the U.S., namely trick-or-treating for kids and costume parties for adults. Interestingly, in Ireland they still light bonfires in rural areas, much like their Celtic ancestors.
In Mexico, the rest of Latin America, and Spain, All Souls’ Day is celebrated on November 2 as a religious holiday to honor martyrs and the deceased; it involves a three-day festival that starts on October 31. Some families in these regions build altars to the dead, namely deceased relatives, and decorate the altars with candy, flowers, photos, food, and drinks. Candles are also lit “to help the deceased find the way home.” As well, many relatives visit family graveyards and tidy up the areas to honor their predecessors.
Interesting to note as well: In England, during the Protestant Reformation, Halloween celebrations pretty much faded out. I did notice that, when I lived in London, people had costume parties and such, but it wasn’t as big of a deal as it is in the States. Instead, the Brits tend to focus on Guy Fawkes Day. On the night of November 5, bonfires are lit up all around England, and you might even see some fireworks shows. Guy Fawkes Day commemorates the execution of the infamous traitor, Guy Fawkes, who was sentenced to death on November 5, 1606, after trying to blow up England’s parliament building. In some parts of England kids walk around asking for “a penny for the guy,” which is apparently their version of trick-or-treating.
Long gone are my days of trick-or-treating and convening the “Great Candy Barter” with my brothers, but I still look back on those Halloweens with fondness. Halloween was a time to stay out past your bedtime on a school night, eat too many sweets, and frantically brush your teeth so that the next dentist visit would not be torture. This year, Halloween falls on a Monday, and my crazy plans will probably involve getting home from work and going to bed early. I might sneak in a few pieces of candy though.