Samhain, Savven, Witch’s Thanksgiving, Hollow Tide, Hallow Mass, All Hallow’s Eve, Halloween. Every Oct. 31, children dress up in costumes and go around begging treats from neighbors who have their porch lights on. In older children, with the absence of a treat, there is sometimes a trick.
But why is Halloween celebrated thus? And why does it have so many different names?
Some questions of this sort were answered by Castleton English Professor Joyce Thomas.
“Halloween as celebrated in the United States is actually fairly recent,” Thomas said.
Samhain (pronounced sow-wen) began as the Celtic New Year a little over 2,000 years ago. It has changed very much since then. Trick-or-treating didn’t begin until the Great Depression.
Rumor has it that the tradition of trick-or-treating began with one woman in the Midwest inviting children into her home in order to receive a treat.
Although it’s not everywhere that Halloween is so popular. English Professor Drennan Spitzer used to live in California.
“Halloween is more important in New England,” she said.
Part of that may be because of Salem, the witch village, in Massachusetts. It also could be in part that it’s celebrated differently and under different names, depending on its location.
In England, children celebrate Guy Fawkes Day — which they get off from school — by going door to door and begging for pennies. Then they have bonfires that night. Bonfires seem to be one of the connecting bits; it connects various versions of Halloween.
Children’s costumes, which (according to one theory) started out as a fun game, the neighbors had to guess who the children were- have often become out of hand each year.
There are costumes of everything from princesses to dragons, vampires to politicians. In keeping with what’s popular, there are also costumes of pop singers and such. Most such costumes look odd on children, when they were meant for an adult to wear.
“I don’t like seeing young children in sexual costumes,” Spitzer said. She adds that if that’s what an adult wants to wear, then it’s fine.
As for poisoned apples and such on Halloween night, there have only been a small number of reported incidents. And most of the culprits were someone that the children knew. It is still a good idea to be cautious though.
Many things associated with Halloween now weren’t even heard of when the holiday started, such as Halloween cards. Many of the specific candies had not been invented yet either. Candy corn wasn’t invented until the 1880’s. While that is over a hundred years ago, it’s almost two thousand years after the holiday began.
“There is no one explanation for Halloween,” Thomas said. “It’s a mix of beliefs and cultures.