* Halloween History *
Halloween as a commonly celebrated holiday came to America with the flood of Irish immigrants after the potato famine of the late 1840's. Halloween, however, has far deeper roots. It is thought to come from Celtic and pagan practices that honored the dead in ancient times. The Catholic Church wished to honor saints and the Pope determined that the first of November would be the day to do this. In Britain the day was called "All Saints' Day", and the night before "All Hallows Eve", "hallow" being a word meaning honor and veneration.
In Ireland some pagan practices and some superstitious beliefs held over. It was thought that disembodied souls wandered about on "All Hallows Eve" in order to find a body to inhabit. For this reason people disguised themselves, acting as if they themselves were ghosts or goblins. They made a great ruckus to scare off the searching souls.
The jack-o-lantern supposedly came from an old Irish folktale in which a gentleman named Jack, who was quite a rogue, tricked the devil into climbing a tree. When the devil was up the tree, Jack quickly drew a cross upon it so the devil could not get down. At this point, he made a deal with the devil that the devil would not tempt him and that he would not admit him into Hell. But when Jack died, he had been so bad, that he was not admitted to Heaven either. Excluded from both places he was doomed to wander the Earth. The devil then gave him a coal from the furnaces of Hell to dimly light his way. To preserve the light as long as possible, Jack carved out a turnip to use as a lantern. When the Irish came to America they found a hollowed out pumpkin with a candle a convenient way to recreate the scene of the story.
The tradition of trick-or-treating has even deeper roots in the 9th century practice of the poor going to the homes of the wealthy on "Hallow Evening" and exchanging their prayers for a piece of bread with currants baked in. These prayers were offered up to Heaven to save the souls of those already dead. The more "soul cakes" given the more prayers that were offered up.
When the Irish practiced these quaint traditions in the United States, they did it on "Hallow Even", which eventually became corrupted to the poetic "Hallow E'en" and finally to the familiar "Halloween". Today, the traditions of the past are still strong. Though few children know why they dress up and go trick-or-treating, or why there is a jack-o-lantern on every porch, they still enjoy the fun and carry on traditions that go back over 1000 years.