Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A History of Halloween: Part 2

Halloween in Early America

When the Puritans settled in New England, they, in the tradition of taking the fun out of everything, had Halloween abolished and replaced it with May Day. May Day happened to be a holiday that was no where near October and involved people making baskets. Oh goody. Though the Puritans didn't like Halloween or honoring ancestors, they did have an interest in the spirit world-an interest that manifested itself in a fearful fascination with witchcraft and divination. Case in point: Salem. Puritans went crazy and killed anyone they even remotely thought were witches. Halloween was eventually brought by the Catholics, and Guy Fawkes day was brought by the Protestants who mainly settled in New York. So, besides New England, Halloween was around in every colony.

After the Revolution and the signing of the Constitution into law, a new era of Halloween began due to the freedom of religion. The Puritan grasp on the ban on Halloween slowly lifted. Halloween became more of a celebration of past and future, where people got together and had cornhusking parties, apple paring parties, and sugaring and sorghummaking days. Otherwise known as "Ask your friends to come over and help you with your work, but you'll give them alcohol as payment" parties. There was ghost stories and fortune telling games, dancing and plenty of food to go around.

The prominence of ghosts and the dead being around Halloween night carried over to America, as did tricks and mischief. Many boys would go out of their way to frighten or trick one of their peers during the night. Halloween was not a national holiday though, not like Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July. It was just a celebration that individual faiths did. It wasn't until the emergence into the 19th century that Halloween would become as popular and widespread as it is today.

With the emergence of immigrants, most coming in the early 1800's, there was more and more stories and customs that went into Halloween. The custom of begging for soul cakes, turned into children going to houses and asking for treats, thus becoming trick or treating. The custom eventually took on the wearing of costumes brought on by the Irish.

Divination became a part of Halloween thanks to the British Isles. Divination was mostly used to predict who you would fall in love with or who your spouse would be. A woman would light a candle and look into a mirror at midnight on All Hallows Eve and see the person she was going to marry over her shoulder. Sounds terrifying!

The custom of hallowing out a turnip and giving it a gruesome face, eventually turned into a Jack-O-Lantern, using a pumpkin instead. The story behind the name Jack-O-Lantern has many variations but most involve a man named Jack and the Devil. Jack hoodwinks the Devil out of crops and the Devil makes Jack hold a lantern for eternity. Tough break.
Black cats and witchcraft and bad luck superstition caught on in America, mostly in the South at first. All of these old traditions were kept intact and spread throughout America, until the late 19th century, when America entered it's so called Victorian Era.

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