Halloween Then & Now
Halloween is often thought of as a uniquely American holiday, but actually, its origins can be traced back over 2,000 years to the ancient Celts, who called the sacred holiday Samhain (pronounced "saa-wn" in the United States). If you were to ask a Wiccan (you can ask me if you like, I qualify) I would tell you that we Wiccans still call it Samhain, and we still celebrate it as a high holiday, dedicated to those who have passed over into death, to this very day. Or, to this very night, really, since it’s a nighttime holiday that begins at sundown and ends at sunrise the day after Samhain. During the night of Samhain, the veil between the world of the living and the realm of the undead is very thin, affording people the opportunity to communicate with the dead with an ease not found at any other time of the year.
Halloween is not a holiday of American invention, which on one hand is kind of a bummer for any alleged American Patriots out there, but on the other hand, is actually much cooler because that makes it older than The United States by 1700 years or so. It’s an ancient holiday indeed, brought from the Old World to the new, given a shiny paint job of slight modernization, but somehow retaining an air of ancient mystery and good old-fashioned fright.
What about the most prominent component of American Halloween, Trick-or-Treating? Well, no one really knows the actual origins of the tradition, but it’s thought to have originated in England sometime in the murky past. However, at that time it was adults begging for food to survive, which transmuted as it traveled over the pond into children begging for candy for entertainment in a night of chocolate gluttony strangely sanctioned by parents and government officials alike.
Not only did the tradition not originate in America, but even the name came from somewhere foreign to American soil: A 1927 article in an Alberta newspaper first coined the term "Trick-or-Treat". Americans didn’t invent Trick-or-Treating, and we didn’t coin the term Trick-or-Treat, but we certainly adopted the practice with almost religious devotion. Nothing has stopped this Halloween tradition in over a hundred years: I vividly remember, back in the stone ages of my childhood, being told to throw away any unwrapped, homemade, or opened candy, and to check the pieces themselves before eating, because some crazy person a few years back put razor blades in candy that was distributed to Trick-or-Treaters. Did this nefarious threat to childhood innocence, which actually did not happen, but was just an urban myth started in the late 1960’s stop us, as a nation, from Trick-or-Treating? Heck no.
Trick-or-Treating would continue, and actually continue to grow in popularity, right up until last Halloween, when COVID canceled Trick-or-Treating, and most everything else, in most areas of the United States. However, this year, you better believe Trick-or-Treating is back with a vengeance! The tradition has been cleared nationally (with some helpful suggestions, like if you see a bunch of kids already on a porch, wait a few moments for them to leave before letting your kids go up on that porch; to wear a mask and to disinfect your hands) and most communities have given the green light for designated Trick-or-Treating times.
It is a social rite of passage when one is old enough to go Trick-or-Treating with a group of friends and no adults, but before one gets too old to go Trick-or-Treating at all there's no set age when one is too old, but generally, it's 15 or so: If you are old enough to have a learner’s permit, you are too old to go Trick-or-Treating, is a good rule of thumb. At this turning point, the young person has to give up that juvenile kid stuff and (perhaps sadly- while most young people want to grow up, there is a loss of innocence which can be quite sobering) resign themselves to attending Halloween parties, or, worse yet, no celebration at all to mark the special night besides being relegated to door duty, to be demoted to the boring chore of handing out treats to the kids who come Trick-or-Treating. Welcome to adulthood, kid.
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