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The History of Halloween

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Halloween traditions of trick-or-treating and jack-o-lanterns were brought to America in the 1840s by Irish escaping the Great Potato Famine. On Halloween, Irish peasants begged the rich for food and played practical jokes on those who refused. To avoid being tricked, the rich handed out cookies, candies, and fruit - a practice that turned into our present day trick-or-treating.

Jack-o-lanterns trace back to an old Irish tale about a man named Stingy Jack. Unable to enter Heaven because of his stingy ways and turned away by the Devil, Stingy Jack wandered the world, searching for a resting place. To light his way, Stingy Jack used a burning coal in a hollowed out turnip -- hence the name "jack-o-lantern." The first jack-o-lanterns, in fact, were carved out of turnips. Only when the Irish tradition reached America did turnip carving turn into pumpkin carving.

Witch means wise one. It comes from the Saxon word wica. Witches were thought to be wise enough to tell the future.

Orange and black became Halloween colors because of orange is associated with harvests and black is associated with death.

Halloween is the 8th largest card-sending occasion. There are over 28 million Halloween cards sent each year!

There are many variations on the history of Halloween, but it's generally believed that Halloween dates back to 700 B.C. to the Celts, a rural society in northern England, Ireland and Scotland. On November 1, the first day of their new year, the Celts celebrated a festival called Samhain ("sow-in").

Chosen to signify the end of the harvest season and the onset of winter, Samhain was also thought to be a day of the dead. Because it was the end of one year and the start of another, the Celts believed that past and present were closely linked, allowing ancestral spirits to join them.

On the eve of Samhain, October 31, the Celts dressed in costume, lit bonfires, and offered food and drink to masked revelers. Many say the costumes and fires were used to drive away the spirits, and the food given to placate the dead.

October 31 came to be called Halloween when the Christians proclaimed November 1 as All Hallow Day. Unable to stop the pagan ritual of Samhain, the Christians made it a day to celebrate saints who had no day of their own. The night before, or All Hallow Eve, was later shortened to Halloween.

Happy Halloween!

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