Halloween Comes to America
Our first inkling of Halloween coming to America revolves not around a specific set of people (many indicate the Irish) but with William Penn’s motley collection of refugees from Europe. In 1663, Penn wrote a promotional tract about the Americans. As a result, fifty ships dropped the anchors in the Delaware River. They discharged persecuted souls from England, Ireland, Wales, and the Rhineland (now Germany). Collectively, the Germans and Irish shared Celtic heritage. Therefore many of the folk customs resonated together—including Halloween.
From 1684 through 1930, Halloween was more a time for tricking rather than for treating. Many of the tricks the German and Irish communities became universal, such as overturning outhouses, dismantling a wagon and putting it back together on top of a house or barn, and tying cows to church bells. The tricks often served as social function, such as mildly chastising a neighbor who exhibited antisocial behavior.
By 1910, several American manufactures were making or importing party products just for the American holiday Halloween. From noisemakers to costumes, a new holiday meant new business and an opportunity to make money.
The drawback to the new holiday came in the form of the “declared” Mischief Night, Goblin Night, or Devil’s night on October 30. Minor offenses, such as trying several garbage cans together and hanging them from a light pole, soaping windows with lard, and later, bars of hand soap, abounded. As the pranks grew to vandalism shopkeepers would bribe youngsters to ward off destruction of their property.
In an effort to stop the criminal behavior, the Boy Scouts, in conjunction with local town councils, cities, boroughs, instituted the custom of Trick-or-Treat night to help keep youngsters from naughty practices. By the 1930s the custom of trick-or-treating was well entrenched in our American culture. Halloween, like Christmas, became a holiday for children, and parents strove to make the holiday as much fun as possible for the enjoyment of their youngsters.
During he 1950s. ’60s, and ’70s our American Halloween stayed primarily the same, but in the ’70s and ’80s, with a recession coupled by a candy scare, groups and organizations once again sought to find appropriate avenues to make Halloween safe for America’s children. Halloween practices extended through the entire month of October. Haunted houses, parties, hay rides, plays, story hours, and numerous other events were held throughout the month.
In the mid-to-late 1990s certain sects of the Protestant Christian church declared war on Halloween. using the same erroneous propaganda cultivated hundreds of years ago. Other groups size Halloween for their own political agendas—hosting haunted houses showing aborted babies, drug addicts, and other modern day violent situations. This did not go over well, as the holiday had become an event primarily for children, not adult political issues. Radical Christian groups said that the holiday was Satanic—which, as we’ve seen from our research, is a bizarre and fantastic claim, based on misinformation, politicking, personal agendas and fear. With America’s policy of separation of church and state the battle for destroying Halloween in the United States is an uphill battle.
The original Samhain marked the the close of the agriculture season and functional third harvest festival. In America, Halloween has become the first holiday in our end-of-year rush for partied gaiety. Our Halloween functions as the opening of the three-month-long celebratory fest that includes Thanksgiving, Christmas, Yule, Kwanzaa, and Chanukkah, and ends with the popular American New Year.
As our children crave pumpkins with delightful chatter, adults find solace in a night when they can be whatever they want to be. We have little doubt about the joy this holiday bring to the American people. I am sure we will forever love the haunted house, the harvest Moon, the thrills and chills of a well-wrought tale—and, of course, the deliciously scary things that go EEEEK! in the night.
Copyright Llewellyn’s Witches’ Datebook 1999 Pages 24 to 29