Dressing up in costumes, going door-to-door trick-or-treating, pumpkins, witches, and the colors black and orange are all things associated with Halloween. How did these traditions arrive in America? Was Halloween always like this? Was this tradition of costumes and trick-or-treating how Halloween has always been celebrated? The answer is no. Halloween has evolved tremendously over time, originally beginning around 2,000 years ago when it wasn’t even called Halloween. Immigrants from the 1900s are mostly to thank for the tradition and customs of Halloween assimilating into American Culture.
Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in) that took place on November 1st. This date marked summer, and the harvest coming to an end and marked the beginning of the dark, cold winter. The Celts celebrated the Celtic festival of Samhain by building Druids (huge sacred bonfires), where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts also wore costumes. It was not as extravagant as it is now, mainly consisting of wearing animal skins.
During the 1900s, when immigration was heavily practiced, America began assimilating into new cultures and religions. Although the diversity in America was nice, the immigrants faced heavy challenges upon arrival in America. It was very hard to find work, and if work was found, it was often dangerous and very low-paying. This caused a lot of immigrants to become homeless and live in poverty. The immigrants were left with no way of supporting themselves; the lucky ones were able to live with relatives in America, but others had no option other than living on the street. In this dark time for immigrants, they were able to find a light in their traditions and religion from home. It provided comfort to know that one piece of them could never be taken away.
With all these other traditions seeping into American culture, how did America begin celebrating Halloween?
One particular group of immigrants, the Irish, had some beliefs and customs spread that seem similar to the Halloween practiced in America. As time went on, a distinctly American version of Halloween began to emerge. The first celebrations included “play parties,” which were public events held to celebrate the harvest. Neighbors would share stories of the dead, tell each other’s fortunes, dance, and sing. As time passed, old Native American traditions, along with the traditions brought to America by new immigrants, mixed together and evolved into the Halloween we know and love. Thanks to the Celtics and immigration, we now have all the traditions associated with Halloween.
An example of a Halloween tradition that has evolved from the Celts is the Jack-o-Lantern. It is thought that the Celts carried home an ember from their communal bonfire in a hollowed-out turnip so they could walk home with the burning fire. But another version of its originality dates back to the 18th century. It is named after an Irish blacksmith called Jack, who was denied entry into Heaven. He was condemned to walk the earth for eternity but asked the devil for some light. He was given a burning coal, which burnt into a turnip that he had hollowed out. People believed hanging a lantern in their front window would keep Jack’s wandering soul away. Irish emigrants in America adopted the tradition and used a pumpkin instead, as it was more challenging to find turnips there.
Contemporary with most Americans, an annual fall tradition that coincides with Halloween is pumpkin picking. On Long Island, a popular destination to go pumpkin picking is Schmitt’s Farm. Schmitt’s Farm has a variety of activities, such as pumpkin picking, corn mazes, hayrides, and petting zoos. While all of these activities are fun, an activity that is still being done similarly to the Samhain is the tradition of the harvest. At Schmitt’s Farm, you have the opportunity not just to pick pumpkins but all kinds of crops, such as peppers, peas, and tomatoes.
Visit Schmitt’s Farm to buy a ticket with the link below. Enjoy pumpkin picking, hay rides, and the haunted house!