It’s Halloween, the time of year where we disguise ourselves, carve vegetables and feast on candy. Just how did this strange holiday come to be? Here’s a look at some history behind our American traditions.Halloween’s roots can be traced back more than 2,000 years to the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween). One of four major holidays that celebrated the turning of the seasons, it marked the end of harvest, the beginning of winter and a time when the veil between life and death was thin and supernatural beings could roam the Earth. People wore costumes to confuse the spirits.
Christian missionaries branded Celtic beliefs in the supernatural evil and associated them with the devil. To replace Samhain with their own beliefs they created All Saints Day on Nov. 1, also known as All Hallows, meaning all holy. People continued to celebrate All Hallows Eve as a time of the wandering dead, though now the dead were seen as evil. People placated them by setting out gifts of food and drink. All Hallows Eve became Hallow Evening, which became Hallowe’en.
Halloween traditions passed down through the centuries from Samhain include bobbing for apples and carving vegetables.
Candy Corn was first produced in the late 1800s by the Goelitz Confectionery Company and was originally called “Chicken Feed.” Boxes had a rooster logo and the tag line: “Something worth crowing for.”
Around 1916 candy companies conjured up a holiday called Candy Day to boost candy sales before Christmas. It was later renamed Sweetest Day and was celebrated in mid-October from the 1930s through the ‘60s.
U.S. kids began dressing in costumes and ringing doorbells for favors around the 1930s. The practice was widespread by the late 1940s. Kids received coins, nuts, fruit, toys and homemade food and spent more time visiting at people’s homes and attending parties than running door to door.
In the 1950s large candy manufacturers began marketing their products for Halloween as a convenient alternative to home-baked goods.
In the 1970s urban myths about the “Halloween sadist” created fear that some people were handing out poisoned treats to children. Although debunked, this led to more reliance on store-bought candy.
Today’s average Jack-O-Lantern bucket carries about 250 pieces of candy, totalling around 9,000 calories and 3 pounds of sugar.
Sources: Library of Congress, The Atlantic, Better Homes and Gardens, The Smithsonian, National Geographic