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Unmasking Halloween Folklore

On the night of October 31, Halloween is celebrated with the masquerading of vampires, ghosts, witches, ghouls, monsters and fairies. Children are out trick-or-treating, canvassing the neighborhoods, going door to door, shouting those three little words and watching their bags fill up with all sorts of goodies.

Early history of Halloween can be found in the Druid harvest holiday which took place each year on October 31. Following harvesting of the crops, Druids in Britain would light fires and celebrate. They would dance around the fires, celebrating the passing season of the sun, the end of summer. The following morning, the Druids would give an ember from their fires to each family who would then take them home to start new cooking fires. These fires were believed to keep the homes warm and free from evil spirits. A three day festival called Samhain (pronounced "sow-en") followed.

Some trace the origins of present day "trick-or-treat" to Samhain. It was believed that spirits of their loved ones would rise out of their graves and wander the countryside, trying to return to the homes where they formerly lived. Villagers would try to appease these wandering spirits with gifts of fruit and nuts. They also believed that if the spirits of their loved ones could return that night, so could anything else, human or not. So to protect themselves from these unwelcome spirits they would masquerade as one of them with the hopes of blending in unnoticed by wearing masks and other disguises, blackening their faces with soot. This folklore of Halloween evolved into Halloween costumes, Halloween parties and the trick or treating of today.