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Halloween History:

Taken from "Halloween In America" (revised and updated 2nd edition) by Stuart Schneider. If you would like an autographed copy of this book (with 208 pages & over 850 color photos, History and Halloween items from 1890 to 1960), the price is $27.00 postpaid by first class mail in the USA . Also available is my book "Halloween Costumes And Other Treats." (Same price) Send payment to Stuart Schneider, 820 Kinderkamack Road, River Edge, NJ 07661

Halloween's origin

Halloween's origin was a celebration not unlike today's Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, it has been confused with early devil worship. Halloween's roots were developed in the beliefs of the Celts (pronounced "Kelts") more than 2500 years ago. The Celts were an agrarian society living mostly in northern England, Brittany, Wales, Ireland and Scotland. Little is known about the individuals of this society other than that their leaders were the Druids (sometimes called Dryads) a mysterious cult of priests and teachers. The Celts are purported to be the builders of Stonehenge, the mysterious circle of giant stones set out in a field in England.

Since the Celts were farmers and gatherers, things that mattered to their society were the weather, the seasons and the wildlife in the areas around them. Some of Halloween's symbols evolved from this society's concerns. If the weather was too dry or too wet, they believed that forces controlling the weather were unhappy. Worship of and rituals surrounding these forces were common and repeated throughout the world in other agrarian societies. There were no established calendars at this time, only the phases of the moon and the changing of the seasons. A Celtic year ended with the harvest and the new year began with the coming of Winter.

A Druid concept was the circularity of life. There was no beginning and no end. "Death" represented not the final end of life, but several things - the end of a growing season, the harvest, Winter and the coming new year. In the spring, the leaves and trees would bloom again. This belief in the circularity of life was applied to plants, animals and people alike.

When calendars were eventually established, the Celtic new year was set to begin on November 1 and end on October 31. The end of the year was celebrated, much as we celebrate Thanksgiving today, with harvest feasts and family get togethers. Foods were gathered and stored for the coming Winter. Druids prayed to the god of Winter with the autumn festival of "Samhain" (pronounced "Saw-wah") also called Summer's End festival. Samhain controlled the dead or non-growing season. At these celebrations, the Druids would dress in costumes made of animal pelts, bird feathers or other natural products. It was a time to read the future, sometimes by looking into the embers of a fire, watching the activity of animals or reading the lines in a cracked nut. Bonfires were built on hills and one clan's fire could be seen by anothers. The hearth fires in each home were allowed to go out and the embers of these community bonfires were then used to relight the hearth fires in a ceremony to honor the new year.

At this time of family reunion, the spirits of their dead relatives were also welcomed and they too, returned home for the harvest festival. One might ask why the spirits chose this time of the year to return to their ancestral homes. Druids believed that at the end of one year and the beginning of a new year, the veil or separation between life & death and past & present was at its thinnest, allowing the spirits of their ancestors to join them for a brief time. The spirits could easily cross over to join the living.

The Celts beliefs were simple, with good and bad spirits influencing life, death, the weather and the growth of crops. Over thousands of years, these activities solidified into annual rituals practiced in rural areas. As other societies grew up around the Celts, their local holidays were also celebrated at harvest time. An old Teutonic (German) celebration called May Eve had been celebrated as a summer holiday but as more and more celebrants attended, the holiday was moved to October 31 since it was easier to feed more people at harvest time. The Romans celebrated an autumn festival dedicated to Pomona, goddess of the fruits and gardens. During the Romans occupation of Britain from the first to the fifth century the influences of both cultures became intermingled. Halloween evolved from this group of festivals that conveniently took place at the end of the harvest time.

Beginning about the fifth century AD, Christianity began spreading into the areas that the Celts occupied. The Celtic kings, at this time, were powerful overlords who controlled all aspects of Celtic life and dominated their subjects. Life was harsh. Critics and dissenters were forced into slavery or killed. In contrast to the Celtic laws, the teachings of Christ were full of compassion, forgiveness and love. Many Celts accepted and converted to this new religion. As Christians they continued their pagan festivals and saw no conflict between the Christian faith in God and competing beliefs of things magical and supernatural. The Church had few objections so long as their followers embraced the religion's principles.

Over time the Church's influence surpassed that of the Druids, but there were others vying for control of the people's spiritual life. Church leaders began to fear competition from the increasing influence of "Magic", as they called it. Magic, a religious belief in the powers of the supernatural, was winning over converts in geographical areas that the Church considered to be their own. People were abandoning the ways of the Church to practice the ways of Magic and the Church was determined to stop the loss. Among the ways that the influence of Magic was to be diminished, thought the Church, was to outlaw the heathen festivals and substitute Christian holy days in their place.

Samhain, a benign symbol of winter and the dead season, began to be portrayed as The Devil, a Christian symbol of death and evil. Devil worship became punishable by banishment or death. The Festival of Samhain was replaced about 800 AD by a holiday honoring the saints. November 1st was now "All Hallow's Day" ("hallow" meaning "saint") and in later years November 2nd became "All Soul's Day". The evening before All Hallow's Day was All Hallow's Evening, which in its shortened form became Hallow's Even and eventually Halloween. Under the Church rule, these became days of prayer and devotion. The festival aspect was ordered abandoned for a more somber prayer day. The idea of a deeply devotional holiday caught on in some areas and was embraced in a less orthodox form in others.


The Scottish may be credited with bringing Halloween to the United States, although some claim it was the Irish. During the period after the American Civil War, the United States saw an incredible influx of immigrants. The earliest symbols of Halloween which appear at the turn of the century, include Scottish thistles, tartan designs and other traditional Scottish themes indicating its Scottish origins. It is often thought to be an Irish holiday, but the earliest decorations never show shamrocks, leprechauns, etc.

Halloween has become an American holiday. Although its celebration is harmless, it continues to come under fire from religious groups. Many believe it is a form of devil worship or alternatively a devout religious holiday. In practice, today's Halloween celebrations rarely put emphasis on the doings of the devil or worship of the dark side, nor are they particularly religious. Halloween's images are designed to be scary but not life threatening. These images have, over the years of its celebration in America, remained somewhat constant. When the activities are aimed at children, the ghosts, black cats and Jack O'Lanterns are usually smiling and rather tame. The images aimed at young adults are more frightening - scary witches, flaming skulls and snarling ghouls - because they demand it. Since the turn of the century, Halloween's scary images have been portrayed in decorations made specifically for parties.

A holiday associated with Halloween occurs in Mexico. All Souls day is celebrated as Dia de los Muertos - the Day of the Dead. It honors the dead with celebrations, feasts, parades, fireworks and prayer. Food, such as pan de muerto, a bread that looks like twisted bones and candies, spun sugar skulls with candy crowns, are made and sold in bakeries and food stores. Store windows, homes and public places are decorated with images of skeletons - skeletons on bicycles, skeletons doing every day chores and even animal skeletons. The celebration is carried to the cemetery where parties are held at graveside to honor the dead. Some families keep the bones of their relatives in tombs and bring them out for the celebration. The United States Latino communities are slowly embracing the holiday and bringing some of its imagery up north.

Halloween parties in the United States became popular in Victorian times. Parties during the 1880s and 1890s were held to bring young people together. The decorations were natural seasonal products such as pumpkins, vegetables, corn stalks, etc. By 1910, several American manufacturers were making or importing party products specifically for Halloween, such as pressed paper Jack O'Lanterns, rattles, vegetable people figurines and paper decorations. Many of the earliest decorations were made in Germany. Imports from Germany stopped during World War I (probably from 1916-1919) and American companies took over to fill the demand. Dating the early products is approximate since some products were unchanged for a number of years. One early American company that produced Halloween supplies was the Dennison Paper Company. Their output of Halloween decorations was incredible and the quality of their product was excellent, from the designs used, to the execution of the item on paper. Since Halloween decorations were usually thrown out after the holiday rather than saved like Christmas decorations, the pieces available to collectors are rare.

An invaluable source of information about what was available and when it was produced are the Dennison's Bogie Books and later their Party Magazine, which replaced the Bogie Book in 1927. Bogie Books showed the products available and how to decorate with them. They also offered Halloween stories and recipes. After a first issue in 1909, they officially begin issuing the booklet in 1912 (the 1924 edition is marked "12th edition") and continued yearly. The 1912 Bogie Book starts as follows:

Wherein are collated ideas for the Hallowe'en hostess which we believe will be instrumental in making a jolly and characteristic Witch Night Party. Two points have been kept in mind throughout - to give practical suggestions that can be carried out easily with little labor and expense and to offer fresh material that will be unusual as well as appropriate.

The date for this old-time celebration is always October 31st; the crucial moment, 12 o'clock. To be sure, the original observance of All Hallowed Eve has become somewhat distorted through the years, but the fun it affords young people in its present manner of keeping cannot be gainsaid and needs no changing.

Hallowe'en is the night when a magic spell enthralls the earth. Witches rule. Bogies, Brownies, Elves and Dryads use their power and all things creeping have no fear. Superstition proves true, witchery asserts itself, and the future may be read in a thousand ways. No occasion gives more chance for enjoyment, no party is more gay than the one this night.

Let me offer you a Halloween pumpkin pie recipe that has been perfected over many years.
The very best Pumpkin Pie. A simple recipe.

Apple and pumpkin pies. Use the extra pie dough to decorate
(witch holding apple, skeleton, JOL on vine)

One 16 ounce can of solid packed pumpkin. (If you use fresh pumpkin, it is a bit stringy and contains too much water unless dried out in the oven).
1/4 to 3/4 cup of sugar. This can be brown sugar or white. (White sugar is brown sugar with the molasses removed.) Feel free to use less sugar and enjoy the low sugar dessert.
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
2 tablespoons of Molasses
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon (more is not better)
1/8 teaspoon of ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons of grated fresh ginger. (Buy the ginger root and wrap it in a few baggies and store it in your freezer. It will last for many months.)
12 ounce can of evaporated milk plus 2 ounces of regular or skim milk
2 eggs (or 3 eggs for a more custardy texture)
1 premade pie crust (These are available in your freezer or refrigerated section of the supermarket. They are quick and efficient) or make your own. I make a poor pie crust and I am the first to admit it.

Put all the ingredients in the bowl except the eggs and mix well. Beat the eggs gently in a separate bowl and then add to the main bowl. Mix gently. The object is to incorporate the eggs without overbeating them.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees, then when it is up to temperature, pour the mixture in the piecrust and put the pie in the center of the oven. After 15 minutes, lower the temperature to 350 degrees and cook for about 30 or 40 minutes or until a knife or toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
That's it. Here is a tip to keep it tasting great. After it cools, cover it with Saran wrap and leave it on the counter. Do not refrigerate it. It will last for at least 4 days at room temperature. These pumpkin pies do not stay around that long unless we make 3 at a time.

The Halloween Museum, page 1

Halloween Trick or Treat Bags, page 2

Halloween Parties and Decorations, page 3

Halloween Crepe Aprons from 1910s to 1920s, page 5

Halloween Jello Sculpture instructions & my graveyard fence, page 6

The Pirate and Retirement Home Parties, page 7

The Black & White and Pajama Parties, page 8a

The Hippie and Jumpsuit Parties, page 8b

The Hobos, Togas and Murder Mystery Parties, page 8c

The Famous Chefs 2016, Traditional Halloween 2015, Day of The Dead 2014, page 8d

The Addams Family 2019, Hawaiian Luau 2017 and Television and Movie Hero Party 2018, page 8e

Vintage Halloween Costumes for Sale, page 9a

Vintage Halloween Costumes for Sale, page 9b

Vintage Halloween Trick or Treat Bags for Sale, page 10

  • Happy Halloween Magazine
  • Halloween Mart - source for tombstones and such
  • Howl 2000 - Haunter's list. Expect 55 to 100 emails a day.
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