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A brief history of Halloween celebrations

Halloween is one of the best loved holiday days on the calendar – and the US is recognized across the world as the out and out master of Halloween celebrations.

It’s a festival that has been celebrated for thousands of years, and a chance to get dressed up and go trick or treating for Halloween candy, send your friends hilarious Halloween cards and gifts, cover your house in cobwebs, scare yourself silly with a horror film, carve a spooky pumpkin face and have a gruesomely good time. 

What is Halloween and where did it come from?

Halloween (or All Hallows Evening) dates back thousands of years to a Celtic celebration called Samhain when pagans believed that the veil between the living and spirit world was at its thinnest, allowing the souls of the dead (good or bad) to return to earth.

During Samhain, which was originally on November 1, people would dress up in spine-chilling costumes and light bonfires to ward off the spirits (or hide from them). It’s probably the reason Halloween has since become associated with spooky characters such as witches, ghosts, bats, haunted houses, cats and goblins. 

Over the centuries, religious influences changed the nature of the festival (it was even renamed All Saints Day), and eventually 31 October (the day before Samhain) started to become the date celebrated as Halloween.

Although Halloween has roots in Ireland, the UK and France, it quickly spread to other parts of the known world. And when large numbers of Europeans migrated to the US, they brought their Halloween traditions with them. By the 1800s, plenty of these traditions could be seen in fall festivals all over the country. 

How we’ve celebrated over the years

In the early days, aside from dressing up in costumes and frightening masks, people would also put out gifts of food to placate hungry and potentially vengeful spirits, as well as going out and begging for the treats themselves. This practice, called ‘mumming,’ would have looked a lot like the trick or treating that we do today. 

In the Halloween celebrations of the 1700s and 1800s, you can begin to see some of the traditions that we know and love today – going from door to door for food and treats; carving turnip and pumpkin jack-o’-lanterns; and playing pranks to imitate the wandering ghosts and spirits. Including placing farmers’ livestock and wagons on barn roofs. 

In the 1920s, after some of the pranks got out of hand and caused damage and injuries, cities across the US started to promote more organized and fun Halloween activities, encouraging its citizens to celebrate through parades, parties, costume competitions and house decorating. This is also when the modern day customs of trick or treating for Halloween candy and giving Halloween gifts as well as Halloween cards to friends and family began.

Fun fact

Did you know, in past centuries, girls in Scotland would toss hazelnuts named after their admirers into the fire on Halloween? If a nut burned gently instead of exploding, it was a sign he was their future husband.

How we celebrate now

Trick or treating for Halloween candy has got to be the number one way families and children celebrate, dressed up in imaginative and colorful costumes. For older ‘Halloweeners’, themed parties are always a favorite, where everyone can go to town and strut their stuff in the most outrageous and freaky outfits.

Everyone enjoys carving out the most ghoulish lantern from a pumpkin and going to an actual pumpkin patch to choose one can be really entertaining. Especially as some pumpkin farms offer a hayride through the patch and serve refreshments (such as cider) afterwards. It’s also fun to see who can find the biggest pumpkin!

Scary movie night has become synonymous with Halloween, with participants hoping they will spend a terrifying evening mostly hiding their heads behind a cushion. Top Halloween films include: Scream, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Shining, Halloween (naturally) and Get Out, among many others.

Obviously no Halloween would be complete without some seriously scary decorations both inside and outside. Some people go all out and build whole cemeteries in their front yards, while others stick to fake skeletons and spiders’ webs, a tombstone or two, hanging bats and jack-o’-lanterns. Lots of devilish decorating can be done inside as well, especially if you’re having a party – skeletons behind closed doors and in cupboards, or walls spattered with fake blood are horrifyingly hilarious.

Fun fact

Did you know, a quarter of all the candy sold in the US every year is bought for Halloween?

How to celebrate with TouchNote

If you want to wish a Happy Halloween to all your friends and family, a personalized card is a perfect way to do it. You can choose a design from our wide selection or create your own with a spooky snap. And if you need some inspiration on what to write inside, check out our spooky Halloween messages blog for some awesome ideas.  

Have a howlingly happy Halloween

With Halloween just around the corner, now is the time to shop for that one in a million costume to wow your friends and neighbors; drag the cobwebs and skeletons and other decorations out of the basement; track down your nearest pumpkin patch and of course, find the perfect Halloween card or gift to send to your closest family and friends.

And whether you’re celebrating at home, watching a scary film or planning to party the night away, have a very happy Halloween!

TouchNote / October 2022
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