While some may question the origins and legitimacy of Halloween, it apparently is one of America’s favorite holidays. In 2019, according to the National Retail Federation’s consumer survey, 172 million Americans plan to participate in the holiday. So where did this tradition come from and why is there such devotion to it?
The holiday is believed to have originated with the celebration of Samhain, a Celtic harvest festival, observed between sunsets on October 31 and November 1. According to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, Celts began the Halloween tradition of wearing costumes, often animal skin to hide themselves from spirits, and masks to impersonate ancestors who had preceded them to the spirit world.
Revelers went from house to house performing silly acts in exchange for food and drink, possibly an extension of an earlier custom of leaving refreshments outdoors as offerings to supernatural beings. This likely inspired today’s trick-or-treat traditions.
Some believe the day has pagan roots. Christian leaders stepped in to transform pagan holidays, and in the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV decreed November 1 All Saints’ Day, or All Hallows’ Day. In some parts of the world, Christians attend services and visit graves. The celebration of Halloween became more popular with Irish immigration to the U.S. in the 1800s. Anoka, Minnesota, may be home to the United States’ oldest official Halloween celebration. In 1920, the city began staging a parade and bonfire to mark the day.
Still a Halloween skeptic? Consumers are expected to spend $8.8 billion on Halloween. Beyond the billions in candy and decorations, there’s this: 29 million people plan to dress their pets in Halloween costumes.