The Pumpkin Patrol,
Ghosts, goblins, evil spirits and death – now costumes, pumpkins, candy and parties. This once-witchy day has become a fun holiday for children and adults.
The significance of Oct. 31 is rooted in a past dating back to pre-Christian times, and has changed dramatically since the days of Beltane and Samhain.
Farming became the main source of food as people began to settle into villages thousands of years ago. Originally, there were just two seasons: growing season and winter. Life and death – or Beltane and Samhain. The first of November began the season of death – food grew scarce and plants died. Villagers honored the Lord of the Dead, Anwinn, the night before.
The belief in those days was that the spirits of those who died throughout the year gathered the final night of the growing season and returned to their homes. The family members could help the spirits reach the land of the dead by carrying them in hollowed turnips and gourds.
Evil spirits, witches and goblins roamed the land on Samhain as well. Scary faces were painted on the hollowed gourds and costumes were used to frighten bad spirits away.
Fairies were also believed to roam about on Samhain, disguising themselves as beggars and going door to door asking for handouts. Good deeds were rewarded.
The Roman Empire is credited with spreading the festival of Samhain, as the Roman harvest celebration Pomona fell on the same day. Cultures merged through time.
The rise of the Catholic Church and the desire to eliminate Pagan ceremonies gave way to the creation of All Saints’ Day, as popular festivals were changed to holy days. People continued to celebrate Samhain though, and by the 1500s, the two had merged into one holiday.
The name All Saints’ Day became All Hallows’ Day, and the night before was All Hallows’ Evening, or Hallow Evening – Halloween became its slang term.
The holiday was Catholic, and was slow to catch on in the mostly Protestant American colonies. However, the massive influx of European immigrants in the 1800s brought with them many customs and traditions.
The first official city-wide observation of Halloween took place in 1921 in Anoka, Minn. By 1925, it was being celebrated nationwide.
Hollowed turnips became pumpkins and door-to-door faeries transformed into trick-or-treating for candy. Ghosts and goblins no longer roam the land – unless there’s a child underneath the sheet with a basket in one hand and a parent’s hand in the other, hurriedly rushing to get to the next door to knock.
(Historical information provided by the Dauphin County Library System)