Monday, October 10, 2011

History of Halloween or "All Hallow's Eve"

Halloween is my favorite holiday! As the ghost-whisperer part of our tour guide team, I'm thinking that any ghost tour blog site would be incomplete without some mention of Halloween at this time of the year, right? :)  There are many ideas about where the holiday of Halloween came from. And really, I think Halloween in the United States may be a combination of many different histories and traditions from many different cultures.  I tend to celebrate it much like the Mexican tradition of All Soul's Day:  I create altars to my ancestors on the other side and put things on them that I remember they liked.

The history that I am most familiar with is that coming from the Celtic tradition. In this history, October 31st is the year end and November 1st is the beginning of the new year. It marked the end of the fertile, harvest season and the beginning of the barren, winter season. It was a night when ancestors and those on the other side of the veil were said to be given permission to join the celebration and walk among the physical ones.

It was important to give out treats to anyone who came to the door in costume, b/c you didn't want to take the chance that the costumed ones were actually spirits that might be miffed if you didn't treat them. They might, at that point, put you on their list of houses to come back and haunt. They might curse you or cause mayhem, so you gave them a treat instead to placate them and insure against that. The night was seen as a way to honor, visit with and pacify spirits who had crossed over, but came back that one night to visit. So why not dress up and pose as a spirit if it meant some fun and getting free treats?! And who knows - then and now - how many of those "spirits" that come to the door are actually non-physical and just taking form for the night to have some fun?  Look at this site to get some interesting information about Halloween. And this website has some fascinating information about how the holiday is tied to Celtic traditions.

Other histories point to the holiday's proximity to All Saint's Day in the Catholic tradition. All Saint's Day is the Catholic celebration of all saints everywhere. It is my understanding that mass on All Saint's Day is a mandatory one for Catholics and occurs on or around November 1st. As in many histories, organized religions, governments and officials often would try and get 'backward' pagans to turn away from their pagan ways and come over to the 'correct' way of thinking. One way to do this was to position an official non-pagan holiday close to a pagan one, so that the celebration could spill over into the "correct" one and confusion would be seeded - to hopefully continue in the coming years - about what, exactly, was being celebrated.Thus we have the name:  All Hallow's Eve, or the night before an all-hallowed day.

Wikipedia has some fascinating information too, about Halloween in the U.S.  Among other things, they point out that:

"American historian and author Ruth Edna Kelley of Massachusetts wrote the first book length history of the holiday in the U.S; The Book of Hallowe'en (1919), and references souling in the chapter "Hallowe'en in America";
The taste in Hallowe'en festivities now is to study old traditions, and hold a Scotch party, using Burn's poem Hallowe'en as a guide; or to go a-souling as the English used. In short, no custom that was once honored at Hallowe'en is out of fashion now.[17]
In her book, Kelley touches on customs that arrived from across the Atlantic; "Americans have fostered them, and are making this an occasion something like what it must have been in its best days overseas. All Hallowe'en customs in the United States are borrowed directly or adapted from those of other countries".[18]
While the first reference to "guising" in North America occurs in 1911, another reference to ritual begging on Halloween appears, place unknown, in 1915, with a third reference in Chicago in 1920.[19]
The earliest known use in print of the term "trick or treat" appears in 1927, from Blackie, Alberta, Canada:
Hallowe’en provided an opportunity for real strenuous fun. No real damage was done except to the temper of some who had to hunt for wagon wheels, gates, wagons, barrels, etc., much of which decorated the front street. The youthful tormentors were at back door and front demanding edible plunder by the word “trick or treat” to which the inmates gladly responded and sent the robbers away rejoicing.[20]"

 So no matter your tradition or reason for celebrating Halloween, I hope you have loads of fun this Halloween. :)  At Haunted History After Dark tours, we offered a special Halloween night tour and it filled up quickly!! So if you are out and about on Halloween night in Old Town in Fort Collins, CO and see us, give us a wave. We can be recognized by the red lantern that Suzy carries at the head of the tour. We may be in costume and some of our guests will be too, for sure.

To schedule a tour sometime after Halloween, email us at We require reservations so that the tours don't get too big. We would love to take you on one of our tours of Old Town. The cost is 10 big ones per brave person or 35 clams for a courageous group of four.
Our tours last about 90 minutes and they are a flat, easy walk. We don't usually cancel for weather (maybe if there were a blizzard blowing in), but meet each Thursday and Saturday with our reserved guests to let them decide if they want to brave the weather. :)  If someone still wants a tour, we do it, b/c we LOVE what we do!

Hope to see you sometime soon and Happy Halloween! Hope you get lots of treats! :)


Anonymous said...

Love the cemetary picture!


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