With Halloween almost upon us, I began to wonder today where the custom came from, and especially, when it became popular here in United States.
I went on line and found lots of information. It seems the custom of going door to door asking for food or other handouts dates back at least to the 1600's in England, Ireland, and Scotland where the poor would disguise themselves and approach the rich for food. I found one site that stated it was the Scotch and Irish who initially brought the custom here. Maybe they needed to ask for food - many who came here were poor and life was difficult. Another site stated it probably came from early Celtic festival of Samhain when people lit bonfires and donned costumes to ward off ghosts of the dead, and those superstitions came with the very first settlers.
One site said Halloween wasn't popular here until after World War II when sugar was no longer rationed. I know that isn't right - there were Halloween pranks around here long before WWII. There was also a theory that those superstitious early colonists believed stories in ghosts and spirits of all sorts, perhaps perpetuated at least in part by Washington Irving's "Legend of Sleepy Hollow," published around 1820. Apparently Washington drew from a local story of a Hessian soldier found decapitated in a swamp whose spirit supposedly rode through the night looking for its head. In his story, Ichabod Crane, the gangling school master, disappears on his way home after a party. His horse was found, his saddle and hat, and a shattered pumpkin. But no Ichabod. Perfect Halloween tale.
I'm still not sure how it all got started, but I do know that Halloween can be great fun. I hope you have fun with various ghosts and goblins and frightening noises in the night - and be safe.