A History of Halloween

By Lauren Wanko

Skeletons, ghosts, and mad scientists take over this Bayonne home every October.

Hudson county native Tom Cannella said, “I guess it’s the kid in me.”

Cannella started what he calls ‘Frightmare on 16th Street’ 40 years ago.

He said, “It’s Halloween I love decorations that’s what it is. I like decorating.”

Halloween traditions started long before folks could buy any of these frightening characters or bags of candy.

“When we discuss the history of Halloween we are going back 2000 years to Celtic times,” said Associate Professor of History at Brookdale Community College, George Reklaitis.

Reklaitis says it all began with the Celtic Festival of Samhain. The celebration of the Celt’s New Year Nov. 1.

He said, “Samhein is Gaelic for summer’s end so it became a preparation for both the farming communities to begin harvesting the last remaining crops, bringing in the live stock to be sheltered.”

The Celts believed the dead rejoined the living during this time says Reklaitis. “So usually the deceased from the past year,” he said. “They would once again rejoin the living compatriots on their way to the underworld. So you have rituals like leaving food out on doorsteps as your dearly departed were making their way to the underworld they could partake in those. The other belief was that these departed souls actually mingled among us so naturally this freaked some people out so this is where we get the tradition of dressing up with ghoulish costumes, representing the dead, as a way of avoiding encountering them, maybe you were kind of tricking them.”

As Christianity spread religious leaders sought to replace pagan traditions with Christian ones.

“I believe it was Pope Gregory who issued an edict telling his missionaries, listen let’s not obliterate the existing customs, let’s co-op them let’s assimilate them,” Reklaitis said. “The Christians come in and say well we have these departed saints, these hallowed souls maybe we should focus on them so All Saints Day becomes Nov 1.”

The night before, All Hallow’s Eve, became Halloween. Over time the poor went door to door and received food. In return they promised to pray for the departed. People also performed in costume hoping for a tasty treat says Reklaitis. As Irish immigrants traveled to America in the late 19th century. They brought many of their traditions with them but trick or treating didn’t become popular here until the 1920s.

Today more than 171 million Americans plan to celebrate Halloween this year. The National Retail Federation indicates total spending is expected to reach an all time high $8.4 billion.

NRF indicates spending on Halloween costumes is expected to reach $3.1 billion this year. More than 60 percent of Americans plan to splurge on outfits like this one. Although most people started shopping for the holiday at the beginning of the month. I was so excited I bought my son’s costume before Labor Day! He plans on trick or treating along with countless other New Jersey kids. Looking to stock up on candy this Halloween.