The Imaginary Realms of
Gilbert M. Stack



Today in History: The Origins of Halloween

Posted by Gilbert Stack on October 31, 2018 at 4:55 AM

On this day (October 31) sometime during the reign of Pope Gregory III (731-741) Christians began celebrating All Hallows Eve (contracted today to Halloween) as the beginning of their commemoration of the dead on All Saints (Hallows) Day (November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2). In Christianity it is traditional to begin the celebration of major religious feasts with a vigil the night before.

Many people think that Pope Gregory placed the vigil on October 31 because of the Celtic feast of Samhain. The celebrations of many Christian festivals were purposely set to coincide with pagan observances in an effort to coopt the revelries for Christianity. Samhain marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the dark wintery half of the year.

The Puritans opposed the celebration of Halloween as they did many of the Church of England feasts so they did not bring it with them when they settled the New World. It was not until the mass migration of Scotts and Irish in the mid-nineteenth century that Halloween began to be widely celebrated in North America. Today, like many Christians feasts, the day has lost most (if not all) of its religious connotations and is marked by imaginative and often scary costumes, parades, parties, decorating, carving of pumpkins, tons of candy, and the pranks referred to in the challenge, “Trick or Treat!”

My father used to tell a story about Trick or Treating when he was young. The houses on his street did not have indoor plumbing and children who were disappointed at the front door of a house on Halloween used to go around to the backyard to knock over the outhouse in protest of poor rewards. As my father tells it, one wily old man decided not only to be stingy with his treats but to play a prank of his own on his costumed visitors. He moved his outhouse back several feet so that the children planning to do mischief in his back yard could fall in the open hole…

Happy Halloween!

Categories: Today in History

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