Halloween: More than candy-coated terror

  • Published
  • By Meghan Augsburger
  • Contributing writer
As the days get drearier and the trees lose their leaves, everyone gets excited about the spookiest holiday of the year. But what do we really know about "fright night" and its history? Most people have never heard the real story behind Halloween's practical jokes and bite-sized sweets.

Origins of Halloween

According to www.history.com, Halloween started 2,000 years ago with the Celtic festival of Samhain, pronounced "Sow-in." This festival celebrated the end of summer and the beginning of the dreary, winter season. Bonfires blazed and the Celts dressed up in various costumes as they sacrificed a variety of animals and crops.

Once the Roman Empire expanded into Celtic territory, Samhain was absorbed into two traditional Roman festivals. The festival of Feralla respected the dead while the festival of Pomona paid respect to the goddess of fruit and trees. Her symbol was the apple, hence the tradition of bobbing for apples.

After adopting the Christian religion, the Romans decided to replace the old Celtic festivals with All Saints' Day or All-Hallows on Nov. 1 and All Souls' Day on Nov. 2. The night of Oct. 31 then became known as All-Hallows Eve, which we now call Halloween.

Adults and children wore various frightening outfits made of animal skins and heads to scare away spirits that roamed the Earth on that night.

Reaching American Shores

The colonies celebrated Halloween differently than today. Celebrations focused more on the past harvest and family activities rather than horror stories and sweets. However, the holiday changed drastically with the arrival of Irish immigrants escaping the potato famine.

The Irish "trick-or-treat" tradition of dressing up and begging carried over into American culture. As time went on, Halloween lost its religious base and became a community activity with a slightly scary twist.

Today it is the second largest commercial holiday, bringing in more than $6 billion each year according to www.history.com.

Another popular aspect of Halloween is pumpkin carving. Around 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins are grown annually in the United States.  The largest to date weighed in at 1,810 pounds in 2010.