Halloween – Part 2 -Comments on History

Halloween 2013


As a writer looks over historical facts or what the historical writers believed to be facts, it is hard to be fully objective . Part of me wants to make purely “academic” observations and part of me wants to try to interpret what I have read through the lens of my experience and my belief set or “worldview”.  You can judge with part wins out!


“The Facts” as I can discern them

I.   The original rituals were a pagan physical world mixture of post harvest thankfulness (most years) and fears of a difficult winter to survive.  They were also mixed with pagan religious spirit world recognition or belief that the spirits of the dead could and would rise to life at this time of year.  The Celts feared these spirits and sought to hide themselves from them.

II.  The Roman Catholic Church frowned on the pagan religious rituals and so decided to try to inject some Christian theology into the seasonal celebrations. The Church was partly successful but many Celts simply added the Catholic rituals to their own and not making a substitution.

III. The original celebrations were very much adult oriented. From the design of the rituals to their performance the emphasis appears to be mostly adult.

IV. Geographically, the holiday was primarily confined to the northern parts of what we now call the UK for several hundred years.  Early American settlers, the Puritans, shunned the pagan/Catholic holiday traditions and gave no recognition to Halloween at all.

V.  Then a major world-changing event took place.  The mid-nineteenth century Irish potato famine led to mass exodus from Ireland (and to a lesser degree, other nearby countries) with a large number of people coming through United States Customs portals on the East Coast – Boston, New York and Philadelphia, in particular.  The Irish brought Halloween with them but they made adjustments to their customs to make them seem more acceptable to the citizens of their newly adopted homeland.  My maternal grandfather came from the northern part of Ireland but in the 1890’s, not due to the famine.

VI. In the U. S. there has seemed to be a gradual shift away from adult dominated rituals to youth dominated rituals / emerging variations.  For example, the large Celtic bonfires became the glowing jack-o-lanterns.  The disguises to confuse the evil spirits became costumes and masks for use in trick or treating or for just plain scary effect – not necessarily connected to any of the traditional evil spirit roaming.

VII. The melting pot of diverse cultures, traditions and ritual and/or religious celebrations seemingly fostered a gradual secularization of Halloween as the nineteenth century ended and the twentieth century got under way. At the same time, practice praying for souls in exchange for cakes was morphing into a secular Trick or Treat “ritual” which drifted more toward destructive tricks than enjoyable treats.

VIII. Somewhere along the line, the entrepreneurial nature of our culture began to craft and shape products and services for the Halloween holiday.  This trend accelerated in recent decades/years to the point where Halloween is now the second largest grossing holiday in the annual retail calendar, second only to Christmas.

IX.  It is anybody’s guess what all the causes of these adaptations were. As the trickery and horror movie aspects began to dominate in the mid to late twentieth century, the churches began to see a need to reenter the holiday.  Fall Festivals, Harvest Celebrations and even small-scale carnival games and rides began to be offered by a growing number of churches as a better alternative to destructive, sometimes violent behavior.  In a manner of speaking, we may be coming full circle to the point where pagan (read commercialized) rituals are being opposed with a soft counter attack of church-provided candy and games, with a bit of Christian trimmings along the edges.


Wrap Up

Well, I’m not sure I stuck to the “facts” or that I covered all the important ones.

What do you think?

Anybody want venture comments, additions, deletions, etc.???

Feel free to leave a comment below.

I’ll try to add some personal conclusions and biases on Halloween before Oct 31.  Don’t worry, I’ll give you time to buy the costumes, party materials, and, of course, the candy before putting in my own opinions (as a preview, I have to say that when I was a child going Trick or Treating I always liked Milky Way candy bars and Tootsie Rolls best… and I still do!).



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Halloween Post Series Links

Who Invented Halloween? – Part 1 – the History

Halloween – Part 2 – Comments on History

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