Haunted History: Where Halloween Comes From Part 4

Waylon JordanHalloween3 Comments

Welcome to the final part of our journey through the history of Halloween!

Time moved on, as it is wont to do, and the peoples of Europe began to travel across the ocean and colonize the lands they found there.  In the thirteen original colonies of the United States, religion and beliefs bent to fit the people who settled there.

In Virginia, made up mostly of English settlers of the Protestant Anglican faith, they rid themselves of Saints, but kept the celebrations All Saints’ and All Souls Days.  It was not uncommon in private libraries of Virginian families to find books on astrology, magickal practice, and divination alongside the family Bible.  They melded spiritual and religious beliefs and even, over time, managed to get the Anglican Church to recognize All Souls and All Saints’ days as festivals to honor the dead.

In Pennsylvania, under the Quaker practice of tolerance for all religions, immigrants of Irish and German descent combined the beliefs of the commonly held Celtic roots and the celebration of Halloween flourished until well into the mid-1700s in a most traditional way.  Here, more than any other colony, folk magick and other spiritual beliefs were not just tolerated, but encouraged.  The lighting of the bonfires as their ancestors had done, while perhaps not common practice, was certainly something that did occur.  It is amazing really, that such traditions could be carried forward by oral tradition alone.  Through all of the groups they had encountered that had tried to keep the beliefs away, they endured and woke once more in the new land.

Maryland remained predominantly Catholic in the beginning, but was later taken over by the Puritans.  They forbade all celebration of any such holidays as All Saints’, All Hallows, or All Souls Days.  A fun bit of trivia for you, they also forbade the celebration of Christmas because they knew the day of celebration had grown up on the backs of pagan traditions and in place of pagan celebrations.  Their rule lasted here until 1688 when they were finally brought down and the English took back over the colony.

So, what do we have here?  Immigrants from all across Europe have come together and mingled creating their own culture and their own traditions.  In the midst of this, the practice of Mischief Night began to creep up all across the colonies and eventually, states of the United States.  Communities would come together for great parties in the fall season, and the youth of the community would run about in costumes, soaping windows and playing pranks on the older members of the community.  And though they had different names for it (Nut Crack Night, Apple Night, and yes, Halloween), a commonality began to creep into the mindset of the people and this night of revelry became a part of all their lives.

It was during the Victorian era that we began to see some of the common imagery we now associate with Halloween.  Broom riding witches with green skin and warty noses were drawn bent over their cauldrons, summoning up the spirits of the dead.  Newspapers and magazines gave instructions for party games and how to carve a “proper” Jack O’ Lantern from pumpkins.  All the while, mischief still reigned supreme as teenagers came up with new and exciting ways of pranking their fellows on this night.

By the early 20th century, manufacturers in the U.S. were making products specifically for Halloween.  Decorations and costumes could be purchased in stores at this time, though it was much more common in more rural areas to make one’s own from supplies readily available at home.

An unfortunate development at this time came when the Ku Klux Klan decided to use Mischief Night as a night to further their own agenda.  Homes and churches were burned by the militant, discriminatory group under the guise of teenage mischief.  It was not until the Boy Scouts combined with groups like the Kiwanis and Lion’s Clubs to create trick or treating night that the holiday was finally wrested from the hands of these evil men in white sheets by turning it from a night of mischief to a night of more innocent fun.  This was further helped along by World War II when youngsters were told that vandalism wasn’t fun anymore.  What’s more it was irresponsible and un-patriotic to destroy someone else’s property, especially when so many were struggling to make ends meet during the lean times of war.

During the 1970s, a great scare came over the holiday.  Gossip warned that candy and apples could be poisoned with the intent of harming children on Halloween.  Before this time, if you didn’t have a lot of money, you could make your own candies or popcorn balls at home to hand out to trick or treaters.  Not so after these rumors began to fly about.  It was store bought, pre-wrapped candy or nothing at all.  What’s even more important to note is that not once, and I mean not a single time, has there ever been a documented case of a poisoned child or a child being cut by a razor blade hidden inside an apple.  Oh, I know we’ve all heard the stories, but it never happened.  Blows your mind, doesn’t it?

It was in the 1990s that Halloween once again found itself staring down the barrel of religious discrimination.  Radical Protestant groups, at this time, began their own personal war with Halloween.  They claimed it was a satanic holiday…that it was evil…that it exalted demons in the guise of costumed childhood games…that it…wait…didn’t I already write this?  Oh yes…yes, I did!  You see, in the 1990s, we came full circle, where those who wish to control another group of people begin by attacking their ideals and holidays.  But, if there is anything we have learned on our journey over the last few weeks, it is that Halloween endures.  It changes, evolves, and even hides out when necessary, but it does endure.

That brings us to the present days, readers.  Halloween remains, to this day, a holiday prominently celebrated in the U.S. and Ireland, though it is gaining popularity in other parts of the world.  I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey as much as I have enjoyed conducting it.  And most of all, I wish you a happiest Halloween 2014!

Waylon Jordan is a lifelong fan of genre fiction and film especially those with a supernatural element. He firmly believes that horror reflects collective fears of society and can be used as a tool for social change.