Halloween has been around for many years. Young people dressing up in costumes and going around to the neighbors yelling "Trick or Treat" and getting bags full of candy that could last until Christmas.
It is a tradition that dates back to the earliest times in Europe.
The Meaning of Halloween
Halloween itself means hallowed or holy evening because it takes place on the eve of All Saints Day. All Saints Day was created by the Roman Catholic church to remember all of the Saints.
In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III changed All Saints Day from May 13 to Nov. 1, and in the year 834 Pope Gregory IV extended this celebration to the entire Roman Church. This event was called Allhallowmass, and as you might suppose, there was a celebration on the evening before on Oct. 31, called All Hallow E'en. The contraction of hallow and e'en later made the word Halloween.
The Symbols of Halloween
Many symbols and superstitions are connected with this holiday. From ghosts, witches, black cats and jack-o-lanterns, all these are connected with the last day of October.
The symbol of the pumpkin, or jack-o-lantern, came from an Irish tale. The tale says that a man named Jack was unable to enter heaven because of his miserliness. He could not enter hell because he had played practical jokes on the devil. So he had to walk the earth with his lantern until Judgment Day.
Some of these symbols were taken so seriously that people believed to be witches were hanged or burned at the stake in early Colonial America.
It was the Druids, an order of priests in ancient Gaul and Britain that believed on Halloween that ghosts, spirits, fairies, witches and elves would come out and harm people. They thought the cat was sacred and believed that cats had once been human beings, but were changed as punishment for evil deeds. From these Druidic beliefs come the present-day use of witches, ghosts and black cats in Halloween festivals and parties.
Modern Customs of Halloween
The modern custom of going door-to-door begging for candy while dressed in costumes called "trick or treating," goes back to the pagan New Year feast in Ireland. The spirits that were thought to be about the village were greeted with a banquet.
At the end of such a feast, the villagers disguised as souls of the dead, paraded to the outskirts of the village leading the spirits away. This was done to avoid any calamities the dead might bring to the people. Another way the people tried to appease the dead was to set out bowls of fruit and other treats so the spirits would partake of them and leave the village in peace.
Later, when the belief in ghosts and goblins declined, youths dressed up as ghosts and goblins and threatened to play tricks on those who failed to be generous with treats.
That was more than ten centuries ago, and yet today the youths of our city still dress in costume and come door-to-door and ask for treats. Sometimes during the night, not only are the treats eaten, but also a few tricks are usually played.
Halloween in Stillwater
One hundred years ago in Stillwater, the Nov. 1 Gazette headline read, "Boys Played Havoc. It was Halloween and they wrought much Mischief." Much of the "tricks played were not particularly harmful" and were, according to the paper, "really amusing."
One of the more interesting pranks played that night was that when a "prominent citizen wakes up in the morning and finds tacked on the front of his handsome residence a sign which reads 'Washing and Ironing Done Here.'" Other tricks that night included the tipping over of sheds, outhouses and other nuisances that are done on Halloween today.
As time went by in Stillwater the schools got involved in throwing Halloween parties, as well as some Stillwater organizations. On October 31, 1945, over 450 kids went to the Stillwater Armory for a Halloween party. There were also 200 parents at this party that was sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
A parade through the business district of Stillwater started off the festivities with the kids wearing hats and tooting horns. George Mueller was the master of ceremonies and he kept the action going. James Tibbetts, whose antics as a clown kept the kids "rolling on the floor," helped him. The Roettger sisters entertained with a guitar and singing act.
Over 400 hot dogs and as many bottles of milk were served to the crowd, as well as apples and candy bars. There were also prizes awarded to the kids for the best or funniest costumes. The party was ended with a Donald Duck movie, and then everyone went home, Halloween was over for another year.
Halloween is a holiday based on traditions. It is interesting how it became the way it is today with roots going back as far as the ancient Druids. The stories of witches, cats, jack-o-lanterns, ghosts and such make the day and the "trick or treaters" even more special.
As you open the door to the little costumed monsters this coming Halloween you can look back upon over a thousand years of history and stories while you give the kids candy that will last almost as long.
—Brent Peterson is the executive director for the Washington County Historical Society.