By Carlos Ferrand
Halloween is one night of the year it is socially acceptable to go door to door asking for handouts.
Not only is it perfectly acceptable to ask strangers for candy, people are encouraged to dress like ghouls, ghosts or goblins while doing it.
Halloween did not start off as the commercial family-friendly night it is today. Its beginnings are connected to the change of seasons and interactions between the living and the dead.
According to the Library of Congress website at loc.gov, the origins of Halloween date back some 2,000 years with an ancient Celtic festival celebrating the turn of seasons known as Samhain.
The Celts believed Nov. 1 marked the end of summer and the beginning of winter, and affiliated death with this time of year because at the end of the harvest, the fields were stripped bare, the weather grew cold and days grew shorter.
According to the History Channel’s history.com, Celts believed the boundary between the living and the dead blurred Oct. 31, allowing the dead to return to this plane.
Out of fear of returning spirits, people would leave food and wine outside the front doors to satisfy the spirits and keep them from entering.
If they had to leave their homes, people wore masks to confuse spirits into believing that they, too, were spirits of the dead returned to Earth.
Today, costumes continue to play a major role in Halloween, but instead of tricking spirits, costumes are used to win contests or creep people out.
Americans spend $2.5 billion on costumes and decorations each year, making Halloween the second most commercial holiday after Christmas.
That is no accident because according to loc.gov, the Samhain festival was the largest Celtic holiday of the year.
As Christianity spread, the church sought to eliminate festivals celebrating pagan observations.
On Samhain, the Celts built large bonfires, lighting the way for spirits in their journey to the afterlife, which they believed would keep the living safe.
To end the pagan practice, Pope Gregory III moved the Christian feast honoring martyrs, known as All Hallows, or All Saints, from May 13 to Nov. 1.
Oct. 31 became All Hallows Eve and, eventually, morphed into Halloween.
According to history.com, trick-or-treating may date back to All Souls Day in England.
Later, the Catholic Church established All Soul’s Day to honor the dead on Nov. 2, the day after Samhain.
During All Souls Day, the poor went door to door promising to pray for dead family members in exchange for pastries called “soul cakes.”
Vandalism and pranks could be avoided, it was believed, if households offered treats to children.
The folklore of Halloween and Samhain were not popular in the strict Protestant colonies of early America.
In 1846, the traditions of Samhain and Halloween set roots in America with the help of a wave of Irish immigrants fleeing a potato famine.
By the late 1800s, Halloween started to transform from a night of spirits and ghosts into a neighborhood get-together.
Halloween was celebrated by people of all ages, but according to history.com, community leaders and newspapers encouraged people to remove anything “frightening” and “grotesque” from their celebrations.
As a result, many of the superstitions and religious connections have been discarded from the holiday.
By the 1950s, Halloween was widely celebrated across the United States, and the focus shifted to children, and the popularity of trick-or-treating returned.
Today, trick-or-treating is a cornerstone of Halloween in this country.
According to history.com, 72 percent of adult Americans hand out candy at Halloween, spending $3.5 billion across the country on sweet treats.
In total, Americans spend about $6 billion on Halloween.
The traditions of Samhain have traveled and evolved over time to become the family-friendly holiday Halloween is today.
So when the doorbell rings, and a group of small monsters chanting “trick-or-treat” casts a shadow on your doorway, you should probably have some treats for them because you never know who is under those masks.