A Brief History of Halloween & Five Alternatives to the Traditional…

Though many children (and some young adults) look forward to trick-or-treating every year, the fact of the matter is that the tradition we all attribute to Halloween is declining.  Though candy sales seem to be higher than last year, in general many families have noticed fewer trick-or-treaters, or at least fluctuating numbers over the years.  But really, this October holiday was never about trick-or-treating anyway.

Around 2000 years ago, the Celts celebrated a holiday they called Samhain (pronounced “sow-een”) on October 31.  It was meant to be a last-minute party as a mark to separate the end of summer and harvest with what came after – the long, hard winter.  As in many cultures and beliefs throughout history, winter was associated with death, so the “Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred” [History].  The Celts did dress up in animal skins and made sacrifices to their deities, so our modern-day costumes make sense.  But what about the door-to-door candy begging?

Skip a few years where the Romans overtook the Celts and then the Catholic church entered the scene.  In an assumed attempt to change the pagan rituals into something more religious and holy in nature, the church moved their traditional All Saints’ Day, which honored past saints and martyrs, from May 13 to November 1.  The night before came to be known as All-hallows Eve (where we get the term “Halloween”).  It wasn’t until the 1800s, however, that immigrants (many of them Irish) who still observed Halloween convinced religious-conscience Americans to take up the tradition of costumes and adopt the English tradition of what is now known as trick-or-treating:

[quote]The American Halloween tradition of “trick-or-treating” probably dates back to the early All Souls’ Day parades in England. During the festivities, poor citizens would beg for food and families would give them pastries called “soul cakes” in return for their promise to pray for the family’s dead relatives. The distribution of soul cakes was encouraged by the church as a way to replace the ancient practice of leaving food and wine for roaming spirits. The practice, which was referred to as “going a-souling” was eventually taken up by children who would visit the houses in their neighborhood and be given ale, food, and money [History.com].[/quote]

So why has trick-or-treating been on the decline if it stayed popular in America up until recently?  Many practical reasons are behind this.  Since about the 1940s, Halloween in America has been a community event where people could freely roam their neighborhoods without worry.  But that all changed when ill-intentioned individuals started poisoning candy, angry trick-or-treating teens started egging non-candy giving houses, and children ended up getting hit by cars because of lack of safety measures.  Like it or not, these are legitimate reasons to be wary of this traditional outing.

Perhaps you don’t want to bring your kids trick-or-treating but still want to make the holiday special for them.  Or maybe you’re one of those types of people who hates your doorbell being rung every few minutes and would prefer to leave the house all together.  Here are five alternatives for you to consider this Halloween and in the years to come!

1. Attend a friend’s party (or throw one yourself) or show up at a celebration hosted by your city or an organization.

This is the number one alternative to trick-or-treating in America.  Many families choose to stick with the safe community aspect that Halloween was in the past by bringing the party indoors, and cities and organizations are presenting harvest festivals and Halloween bashes on a yearly basis.

2. Attend a carnival, theme park, or (duh) corn maze.

Coming close in second to parties and local events, carnivals and theme parks are quick to pick up on the Halloween spirit in a way that encourages family together-time as well as safety.  If you’re in an area where corn can be grown, which is hard not to find in America, chances are there is also at least one farmer who relishes the opportunity to make some extra cash off of creating a corn maze and selling admission to it.  Many tend to be haunted, too, so you’ve got your brains being exercised as well as your fears.

3. Make it a movie night.

Many people choose to watch horror and thriller movies on the days leading up to Halloween, but why not just turn the holiday into a marathon of creep-dom itself?  Pick your top three or five favorites and sit down to some terror.  This night could easily be turned into a mini-party of its own, with unique food choices like mashed Jell-O standing in for brains and peeled grapes as eyeballs.

4. Celebrate the non-American way.

If you paid attention to the history of Halloween above, you’ll note that Halloween was never an “original” American holiday.  So change it up – celebrate in the styles of another country!  Spanish and Latin countries observe Dia de los Muertos – the Day of the Dead, where they fix up the grave sites of their relatives and then picnic nearby.  The English like to burn effigies of Guy Fawkes the first week of November to celebrate his failure of blowing up Parliament in the 1600s (and take it from me – I’ve been in England for that week and they party EVERY night with bonfires and fireworks, like an extended Halloween-Fourth-of-July mashup).

5. Spend the night in a really, really creepy setting.

Notice how many people celebrate Dia de los Muertos by picnicking in a graveyard?  Take that an extra step by camping out in one for the night.  Or find a local campground or cabin that has been rumored to be visited by ghosts – make sure to sit around the fire before bed and tell ghost stories.  You could also look into haunted hotels and mansions; the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, for example, is said to be haunted and is part of the inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining.

Though many people complain that Halloween is being ruined in America by a lack of trick-or-treating, that doesn’t mean the history doesn’t still live on in other ways.  Besides, giving candy to children who are one-third obese in this entire country probably isn’t a great idea, anyway, no matter what tradition says.  Take the time this Halloween and all the ones to come to consider what you would like to do to make this holiday special for you and friends and family!

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