Small Town Halloween
I started out to just record my memories of Halloween celebrations and customs of my childhood in the 1950’s. Before I began to write what I remember about how my brother and did Trick or Treat in the little Southern Iowa town where we grew up, I thought I would do a little research on the holiday as it has changed over the years. I am quite sure as a child I did not know why we carved pumpkins, but I did love the squishy job of taking out the innards so we could put the candle inside. Nothing was neater than seeing that flickering flame light up the scary face we carved with the help of Mom or Dad. The fact that we were allowed to go out begging for candy and come back with enough sugar to overdose on for several weeks( if mom had not chosen to ration it ) was not questioned.
I do remember that in those days, Trick or Treat meant- if you don’t give us a treat, we will play a trick on you.
Thanks to Wikipedia, I read that in the past Halloween was both a Christian and Pagan holiday. As it was with other pagan holidays, Christians adopted the day as All Hallows Eve. It was celebrated to honor the souls of the departed, martyrs and those souls still in purgatory.
Christians visited cemeteries and placed lighted candles or flowers on the graves in memory of loved ones. Another custom was to make soul cakes which were offered to costumed visitors who came to the doors in exchange for prayers for the dead. Lighted hallowed out turnips were carried to ward off evil spirits. The wearing of costumes might also come from the belief by some that vengeful ghosts still wondering the earth until All Souls Day saw All Hallows Eve to be the last chance to get revenge.
Maybe this is why costumes of witches, and ghouls, and monsters are still part of the party mix.
The custom seems to have originated in Celtic influenced Ireland and Scotland and came to America in the 18th Century with Scottish and Irish immigrants. The carved lighted turnips became pumpkins and the dressing up for trick or treats emerged. Gradually the practice
of Trick of Treat became popular in the 1930’s and by the 1950’s tricks were still being performed my vandals who used the holiday to overturn outhouses, soap windows, steal or vandalize lawn furniture or practice other forms of less destructive mischief. I seriously doubt these evil spirits had any idea of the reason for the vengeance other than just
an excuse to play mean tricks.
If you want to learn more about the evolution off Halloween, just Google and go to Wikipedia.
It is interesting to learn that Halloween customs and practices have spread around thanks tha to theme parks like Disneyland.
In 1950 we went from house to house in our neighborhood and sometimes got very good homemade treats, like cupcakes or popcorn balls. We knew every family where we stopped. If it was chilly, we might be invited in to model our costumes and have some hot apple cider.
I don’t remember and bonfires but did learn of some grouchy neighbor getting his windows soaped. If we did have a party, which was not often, we bobbed for apples which has its origin in courting rituals. It just was fun as a kid to see how wet you could get to get a bite of the apple.
Once we moved to a bigger city, my brother and I no longer went trick or treating, but liked to stay home on Beggars Night to see the local neighbor kids and hear their “tricks”. Buy this time the custom of doing a trick to get the treat was trending. I have this theory that the work ethic was pretty strong in my part of the world and doing something to earn your trick was more acceptable than threating to trick you, if you did not get the goodies.
By the time my children were Trick or Treating children went in groups. Occasionally an adult might accompany them, but later after my kids were grown, no little folk ever went around the neighborhood without a parent or other adult with them. Still there were around 30 or 40 little people to enchant us with their “tricks.”
Sadly, the fear of kidnapping or poisoned treats drove the fear of door to door even in your neighborhood to other practices that were deemed safer. Malls held a Beggars Night. In rural areas Trunk or Treat became a way for children to have some fun who did not have neighborhoods.
Like Christmas, the commercialization of Halloween has resulted in its origins being lost to many who continue to celebrate its traditions without knowing why. I must admit I still enjoy putting up decorations and am unable to resist some of my favorite candy. I always managed to confiscate a Snicker bar or two from my kid’s loot. My dog Lucy, will be going to a Halloween party at her doggie daycare and I already have her costume. She loves to dress up.
So have a spooky Halloween. Because I live in an apartment, there will be no Trick or Treaters stopping by, but I will be watching my favorite Halloween flick, Arsenic and Old Lace with Cary Grant. Just a little spooky and very funny.