The Humble Beginnings of Halloween


Halloween has always been a special time of year in Placer County. I remember when we were growing up that we would always paint the windows in downtown Auburn. There were always some great works of art with kids painting everything from witches and goblins to pumpkins and ghosts.


Trick or treating was quite a bit different back then as well. I used to love getting dressed up and walking around the neighborhood. I would always come back to the house with my bag of goodies and would invariably try to eat them all in one go.

Thinking about Halloween made me want to go back and see where it all started.

skeletons-303877_640Apparently, Halloween began as a Celtic holiday known as Samhain. This pre-Christian Celtic festival took place on the eve of October 31. The Celts occupied what is now Ireland 2,000 years ago and believed that the dead would return to earth on Samhain. They would light bonfires together paying homage to the dead while offering sacrifices.


During Samhain,  some townspeople would disguise themselves in animal skins to scare away phantoms with banquet tables being filled with edible offerings to keep the unwelcome spirits happy. Hundreds of years later, people would dress as demons, ghosts and other creatures while performing, “Tricks,” in exchange for drinks and food. The custom, known as, “Mumming,” can be traced back to the middle ages, with historians believing it was the precursor to trick or treating.

Once Christianity spread into the Celtic lands in the ninth century, it began to gradually blend with some of the older Pagan rituals, including Samhain. The church proclaimed November 2 in 1000 A.D. as All Soul’s Day, which was meant to honor the dead.


English celebrations resembled Samhain and included masquerades and bonfires. The poor would visit the rich receiving pastries known as Soul Cakes as long as they would pray for the homeowners deceased relatives. This practice was known as Souling. Souling was later something that the children took up going from door to door asking for ale, money and food.

In Ireland and Scotland, children would dress up in costume, known as, “Guising.” Instead of praying for the dead, they would recite a poem, sing a song, tell a joke, or perform a, “Trick,” before being given a treat, which was usually a coin, nuts, or fruit.


When American colonists from Ireland fled the country because of the potato famine in the 1840’s they began to popularize the old traditions. Guising and Souling would soon became known as Halloween.

During the Depression, Halloween mischief became rife with physical assaults, vandalism, and acts of violence taking over. One theory is that those pranks led to community based trick or treat traditions through the 1930’s; however, this practice was abandoned in WWII because of sugar rationing.


After the postwar baby boom, trick or treating and Halloween became one of the most popular holidays in the United States with families in newly built suburbs dressing up on October 31 for parties and trick or treating. Today more than six billion dollars is spent each year on the second largest commercial holiday.

Speaking of trick or treating, Old Town Auburn is offering a Safe Trick or Treat afternoon from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM on Friday October 21. Just look for the, “Trick or Treat,” paper plate located in the shops window where you will find safe goodies for the kids. Courthouse Coffee, Bootleggers, Sierra Moon, Tsudas, and  the Silver Store are just a few of the businesses that are participating in Safe Trick or Treat.

Another great event happening tomorrow, Saturday the 25th, at Dingus McGees is the Halloween Howl Out Bash Costume party and Fundraiser. Happening rain or shine, this fabulous event  features two golf tournaments and a costume  beer bash.

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