Thursday, October 20, 2016

Handmade History: Halloween

by Kate McCreight, guest blogger

You didn't think we'd get all the way through October without a Halloween post, did you? This month, Handmade History is exploring Halloween: What are the origins? How did we get to modern day Halloween - the candy, the trick or treats, decor, costumes? And, of course, there are plenty of HandmadeMN goodies to be found.

Handmade rag cloth doll, A Sugar & Spice Life
Today's Halloween is a merger of holidays and traditions observed over October 31, November 1 and 2 by ancient Celts, Medieval Christians, Colonial Americans, and Irish immigrants of the 19th century. 

Halloween evolved from the ancient Celtic holiday Samhain, the end of the harvest and beginning of a long, cold, and dark winter (and it's association with death), and also the Celtic new year, which took place on November 1. The night before Samhain - October 31 - was believed to be a time when the divisions between the living and the spirit world became blurred. Spirits were believed be malicious, and people donned masks, so ghosts would assume they were fellow spirits. To appease the spirits, gifts of food were left outside their homes. Bonfires were lit, stories were told, and it was considered an auspicious time for divining the future.

The Goblin Man sheet music magnet, Auntie B's Wax
In the 8th century, Pope Gregory moved All Saints' Day to November 1, and, later,  November 2 became All Souls' Day, merging the pagan Samhain with Christian traditions. It was even celebrated in much the same way - lighting large community bonfires and dressing in costume. Also known as All Hallows, or All Hallomas (from the Middle English word for All Saints' Day - Alholowmesse), the night before became All Hallows' Eve, then Halloween.

For the American Colonists, Puritan religious restrictions limited the celebration of Halloween, but friends and neighbors still gathered during this time to celebrate the harvest. Ghost stories and mischief-making were all part of the celebrations.

The Medieval tradition of Guising - children dress up and accept food, wine, and money in exchange for telling a joke, performing a trick, singing a song - was revived in the 1850s by Irish immigrants in America. This, of course, became what we know as trick or treating.

Halloween tricks or treaters, 1934. From the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society, GT4.6 p13. 
Old encyclopedia treat bags, TC Witchcraft Factory
The Victorians further shaped Halloween, molding it into a holiday focused on community gatherings, and parties for children and adults became the most popular way to celebrate.

Halloween costume party, c 1900. From the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society, GT4.6 r6.

Up until the 1950s, however, it was more about the tricks than treats - and Halloween vandalism was commonplace.

Halloween stunt: lawn furniture and other items on house, c 1923. From the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society, GT4.6 r2.
Trick or treating and community festivities were revived in the Baby Boom years, turning the holiday into the secular, child-focused event we know it as today. It's also a multi-billion dollar industry - second only to Christmas. Between candy, costumes, and decorations, Americans spent more than $6 billion last year.
Trick or treat pillowcase, Looks Sew Nice

Halloween window display, October 20, 1949. From the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society, NP 190941.

Flying black bats wall decal, Twistmo Home Decor
Share your Halloween traditions and plans - I'd love to hear how each of you make this holiday special in your home.


Sharon Parker said...

What a fun overview of Halloween history! I love the photos from the historical society interspersed with some modern handmade fun things.

Victoria Lee said...
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