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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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The ancient Celts are known the start of Halloween. In 1,400 BC, in the upper Danube region of central Europe, began the Celtic civilization. It was not until around 900 BC that the Celtic tribes migrated and settled in Scotland. Their migration was mostly caused by war, and they fled. Scholars have separated the Celtic language into two types; Insular Celtic and Continental Celtic (Cartwright, Mark. “Celts.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, 22 July 2016, www.ancient.eu/celt/). After the Roman imperial period in 27 BC, Continental Celtic was no longer a common language. Two groups of Insular Celtic, Breton and Welsh, is still spoken today. Cornish, however, became extinct after the eighteenth century. Another type of Celtic language included Goidelic-Irish, which eventually evolved into modern Irish. Goidelic-Irish can be traced back as far as the fifth century. Before it became modern Irish, it was less evolved and called Middle Irish from 950-1200 AD.

Halloween branched off of a Celtic holiday known as the festival of Samhain. In ancient Celtic culture it was believed that the year was divided into two parts, Beltaine, which was from the first of May to the 31st of October, and Samhain, which began on the first of November. The Celts had a reputation for their superstition, which was at its highest on October 31st. It was believed that on this night the boundaries between this world and other were blurred, and demons and ghosts of the once living roamed throughout. Any borders between territories, specifically those marked by water, seashores, bridges, or anything similar were considered to be pathways to and from other dimensions. Dusk and dawn were the times these spirits were believed to be the most active. The concept of time lost all meaning on the eve of Samhaim. Cattle and other livestock were brought in from their summer grazing so that they could be protected from the wandering dead. A traditional “Dumb Supper” was served on the night of October 31st. The head of the table was left empty, reserved for past ancestors, and served food drink. No one was to look at this empty seat or they would be brought misfortune for the following year. Everyone at the table sat in complete silence to honor their ancestors. Because of the blurred boundaries, communication with the dead was possible.

Young people and children of Scotland and Ireland took part in a tradition now known as trick-or-treat. During that time it was called guising. Disguises and costumes were worn while they asked for various items from surrounding households. Their “treats” typically consisted of a small amount of money, fruit, or nuts. Many of them wore costumes made of animal skins, believing it would drive away phantoms and numerous other beings. In the following centuries, people began dressing as ghosts, demons and other evil supernatural creatures. They performed antics in exchange for food and drink. This was a custom known as mumming. Dating back to the Middle Ages, it is thought to be an antecedent of trick-or-treating.

By the ninth century, Christianity had spread into Celtic lands, where it gradually blending with and supplanted older pagan rites. In 1000 A.D. the church designated November 2 as All Souls' Day, a time for honoring the dead. Celebrations in England resembled Celtic commemorations of Samhain, complete with bonfires and masquerades. Poor people would visit the houses of wealthier families and receive pastries called soul cakes in exchange for a promise to pray for the souls of the homeowners' dead relatives. Known as souling, the practice was later taken up by children, who would go from door to door asking for gifts such as food, money and ale.

British children would often wear masks and carry effigies, or sculptures of people. They asked for pennies on Guy Fawkes Night, which commemorates the foiling of the so-called Gunpowder Plot in 1605. On November 5, 1606, Fawkes was executed for his role in the Catholic-led conspiracy to blow up England's parliament building and remove King James I, a Protestant, from power. On the original Guy Fawkes Day, celebrated immediately after the famous plotter's execution, communal bonfires, or “bone fires,” were lit to burn effigies and the symbolic bones of the Catholic pope. By the early 19th century, children bearing effigies of Fawkes were roaming the streets on the evening of November 5, asking for “a penny for the Guy.”

Commercialization of Halloween did not start in America until the early 20th century. Trick-or-treating is one of the most popular traditions in the United States to celebrate Halloween. This was not prevalent until the 1950s, and was a night of causing mischief and ruckus in the streets. Cars, portions of houses, and other personal property were destroyed for the sake of a good time. Trick-or-treating has now been replaced by the family event we know today. This was largely achieved through commercial marketing strategies taking advantage of such a tradition. 33% of the candy bought in America annually is purchased for Halloween (“Halloween in the United States.” Timeanddate.com, www.timeanddate.com/holidays/us/halloween

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