This Day in American History October 31

The Library Of Congress

Happy Halloween!

On the night of October 31, many Americans celebrate the traditions of Halloween by dressing in costumes and telling tales of witches and ghosts. Children go from house to house—to “trick or treat”—collecting candy along the way. Communities also hold parades and parties.

Halloween, also known as All Hallow’s Eve, originated as the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, meaning “summer’s end.” The autumnal holiday, rooted in Christian and pagan festivals—with elements of magic and mystery, celebrated the link between seasonal and life cycles (winter was then a time associated with death).

Halloween is now celebrated worldwide and reflects the assimilation of various cultures. In the twenty-first century, it has become a secular, and hugely commercial holiday.

Writing about his nineteenth-century boyhood in Minnesota, Frank G. O’Brien recalls Halloween as a night when “the leaders of the fun took matters into their own hands and the whole town was at their mercy.” In addition to switching signs between the town doctor and the local undertaker, pranksters thought nothing of causing major inconveniences. After one Halloween revel, O’Brien writes:

The next morning the plank sidewalk on a business thoroughfare was found to be at least five feet from the ground and as securely braced and nailed as if it had been placed there by order of the city council, R. B. Graves, mayor, and attested by W. W. Wales, city clerk.

This “elevation” would often extend for nearly a block at different locations in front of business houses, and necessitated considerable work on the part of the proprietor and clerks to get matters in shape to receive the morning customers.

The Library of Congress

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