More Than Tricks and Treats

By Hadley Bjerke, News Writer



Walking the line between terrifying and thrilling, Halloween is a mix of celebration and superstition. Some historians believe the holiday began with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when bonfires and costumed folk were thought to ward off roaming ghosts. In the eighth century per Pope Gregory III’s designation, November 1 became a time to honor all saints and martyrs. The holiday, All Saints’ Day, mirrored a few traditions of Samhain. Since then, Halloween has evolved into a secular event that focuses on communities and child-friendly activities.

Early in America’s history, the celebration of Halloween was limited by the Protestant belief systems in place in colonial New England. However, the holiday was common in Maryland and southern colonies. By combining the beliefs and customs that had traveled over from Europe with the ones held by American Indians, a distinct American version of Halloween emerged.

Initially celebrations included “play parties,” which were public events that commemorated the harvest and allowed neighbors to share stories of the dead, dance, sing, and tell each other’s fortunes. Ghost stories and pranks were popular as well in colonial Halloween festivities. By the mid-nineteenth century, annual events in autumn were common, but Halloween was not celebrated throughout the country.

As waves of new immigrants arrived in the second half of the nineteenth century, especially the millions fleeing Ireland’s potato famine of 1846, Halloween became a popularized national celebration. Borrowing from Irish and English traditions, Americans began to dress in costumes and travel from house to house asking for food or money, a practice that transformed into “Trick-or-Treating.” A popular belief among young women at the time was that the night of Halloween was when to discover the name or appearance of their future husband. The information could be divined with tricks done with yarn, apple parings, or mirrors.

A move took hold in the late 1800s to have Halloween be crafted around the community and involve neighborly interaction instead of ghosts, witchcraft, and pranks. Halloween parties began to appear across the country as a way for adults and children to celebrate with games, food, and festive costumes. Newspapers and community leaders encouraged the public to remove anything that could frighten someone from the celebrations. By the beginning of the twentieth century, Halloween had lost most of its superstitious and religious connotations.

Parades and town wide parties dominated Halloween celebrations in the 1920s and 1930s. Although schools and communities tried to counteract vandalism, the act became a nuisance in many communities during the time. Surprisingly, trick-or-treating provided a solution. The revival of the centuries old tradition allowed homes to prevent tricks being played on them in exchange for providing small treats to neighborhood children. Later in the 1950s, parties were still common and typically held in community centers. These centers quickly became unable to accommodate the influx of families from the baby boom, and the parties transferred to homes and schools instead.

As the days grow shorter and the nights get colder, Halloween, and the month of October, allows people to welcome the winter season. There are many opportunities in the Rolla area to participate in Halloween-themed activities such as Delta Tau Delta’s Haunted Maze, the Mining Engineering Department’s Haunted Mine, and the VFW’s Halloween Party. The Haunted Maze will be Friday, October 28 and Saturday, October 29 from 7:00 to 11:00 p.m. All proceeds support the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and more information can be found by calling (636) 234 – 4270. The Haunted Mine will be Friday, October 28, Saturday, October 29, and Monday, October 31 from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. Visitors are asked to bring canned goods as admission to support Russell House and more information can be found at (573) 341 – 6406. Finally, the VFW Halloween Party will be on Friday, October 28 from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. with family-friendly games and activities. More information can be found at (573) 364 – 2025.