Halloween is a great time for kids to dress up and go Trick-or-Treating, but what is it all about? Well, Halloween is a shortened version of All Hallows Eve, which means the evening before All Hallows (or Saints) Day in the Christian calendar. However, the origins of Halloween as a night of celebration date back to medieval times with the Festival of Samhain, an ancient Celtic tradition when people would dress up to ward off evil spirits.
Halloween was introduced to America by Scottish immigrants in the early 1900s, and thus began the commercialization of the occasion. It died off somewhat in Britain and Europe, just as the celebration of All Saints Day on the 1st November became just another date on the calendar.
However, as with many things and mainly thanks to Hollywood, what happens in the States one year will happen in the UK the next (or in this case half a century later) and Europe inevitably follows.
Trick-or-Treating also has its origins in Medieval Britain, when the poor would beg for food and in return, they would pray for the dead on All Souls Day, which is the 2nd November. Again, this all but died off until it appeared in America in the 1920s when the Scottish tradition of “guising” was introduced. This was when children disguised themselves as something frightening (to reinforce the “Trick” or threat) and went from house to house demanding “Treats”, usually sweets or candy.
The decorating and placing of pumpkins outside the home may seem a very American thing to do, but again, this was brought over by Irish immigrants in the late 19th century.
Back in Ireland, they wouldn’t have used pumpkins though. It would most likely be a turnip or a potato, hollowed out and carved into a face.
A candle was placed inside to provide the light and they called it Jack O’Lantern (as in Jack-of-the-Lantern).
Nowadays, people are quite creative in their carving, turning it into quite an art form.
So, contrary to what many people think, Halloween, trick-or-treating, pumpkins and dressing up is very much a British and Irish tradition that was introduced to America by Scottish immigrants, and then taken on board again by the Brits in the late 80s. early 90s.