The Story of Halloween

It’s almost that time of year again – the time when little kids disguise themselves as witches, ghosts and goblins. They become extortionists, ringing your doorbell and demanding treats if you want to avoid having tricks being played on you.

By the 1950’s, the only acceptable treats were candy and the demand was high enough to support the establishment of several candy makers who are well-known today, such as Hershey, Mars and Nestle. In recent years, nearly 600 million pounds of candy are purchased in the US alone in the days leading up to Halloween – representing more than 10% of annual candy sales and a revenue of nearly two billion dollars! By comparison, candy purchases for Easter and Christmas amount to less than half that.

We carve pumpkins, set out candles and pretend to be scared when we open our doors to the trick-or-treaters and see their spooky costumes , perhaps with a wink to the parents of the youngest ones who are standing a few feet away. The purchase of these costumes collectively represented another 3.2 billion dollars in US sales in 2019.

How all of this came about is the fascinating story we will be telling you about over the next three weeks. Check back here on Sundays and Wednesdays to read the next installment!

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Part 1: The Celtic and Roman Origins of Halloween

The end of summer, the harvest, and the beginning of the long, dark, cold days of winter were terrifying times for ancient people. The ghosts of ancestors could return to the land of the living and no one could be sure of surviving until warmth and the sun returned again the following Spring. For people completely dependent on the whims of an unpredictable, natural world, they sought comfort in ceremonies and festivals. This is a bit of their story.

Part 2: The Christianization of Halloween

The Western Roman Empire was a hostile environment for the early Christian Church until the conversion of Constantine and the Edict of Milan. With that guarantee of religious tolerance, however, the Church expanded rapidly throughout Europe and into what is now the UK and Ireland and encountered once more the Celtic celebrations of the dead. The way in which the Church adapted their customs and festivals to Christian celebrations makes up the next fascinating chapter in the story of Halloween.

Part 3: The Evolution of Halloween by the Medieval Churches

The story of Halloween took a darker turn in the Middle Ages with the splintering of the Catholic Church and the start of the Reformation. Luther’s refusal to recant his Ninety-Five Theses at the Diet of Worms resulted in his excommunication and the creation of the Protestant Church. Many of the elements of Halloween celebrations we enjoy today began as horrible tortures of women wrongly accused of practicing witchcraft.

All photos in this series from Wikipedia Commons or other public domain sources