Sunday, October 30, 2005
From Pagan pranks to Hallmark cards, a brief history of Halloween:
Fifth century B.C. The ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, on Oct. 31, celebrated the end of summer and beginning of winter, as well as the start of the Celtic New Year. The Celts believed that the spirits of the dead traveled again among the living at this magical time, when the veils between the worlds were thinnest. Because the Celts passed on their history orally, there are conflicting accounts about their practices and beliefs. But many of them suggest that the Celts' methods of celebrating Samhain - by pulling pranks, dressing up and lighting bonfires - paved the way for today's Halloween practices.
First century: The Romans, who'd conquered the Celts, adopted this Pagan festival, adding their own touches to the Samhain festival, such as bobbing for apples and making centerpieces out of apples and nuts in honor of the Roman goddess Pomona.
A.D. 835: Pope Gregory IV moved the celebration for all martyrs (later, all saints) from May 13 to Nov. 1. The night before became known as All Hallow's Even (or "holy evening''), eventually shortened to "Halloween."
The Catholic Church celebrates All Souls Day on Nov. 2, and the custom of "trick or treat" is thought to have originated from a related custom called "souling": The early Christians went door to door begging for "soul cakes" (square pieces of bread made with currants). The more cakes a person gave, the more prayers were said for the soul of the dead in that house.
Mid-19th century: Immigrants escaping the potato famine in Ireland brought the custom and legends of Halloween to America, including the jack-o'-lantern legend. In Irish folklore, Jack was a notorious drunkard and trickster who was denied entry into both heaven and hell, though Satan gave him an ember to light his way in the darkness. The Irish carved jack-o'-lanterns out of turnips, but in America they found pumpkins to be more plentiful.
1908: The first Halloween greeting cards in the United States were produced. Many were postcards.
1920s: Hallmark produced its first Halloween cards. The company now produces more than 320 Halloween greeting cards and a wide variety of other Halloween products.
1973: Greenwich Village mask-maker and puppeteer Ralph Lee started New York's Village Halloween Parade as a neighborhood walk for his children and their friends. It is now the largest celebration of its kind in the world.
2005: Halloween has become the No. 2 holiday for home décor (behind Christmas), with consumers expected to spend approximately $840 million on decorations this year. Halloween also has become the third biggest party day in the United States after New Year's Eve and Super Bowl Sunday