By Dorothy Copus Brush
This 31st day of October was All Hallows Eve for centuries, long before it gradually became trick-or-treat night. For young children the week leading up to that magic night is filled with excitement. Thoughts of the costume to wear and walking the dark street even though holding a adult’s hand were new experiences. So too was thinking about knocking on doors hoping something delicious would be dropped into the bag you carried.
That was the scene in our home as Halloween approached in 1962. Then on Oct. 22, everything changed. On that date President Kennedy spoke on television telling the country the Soviets were in Cuba secretly installing long-range launch sites for nuclear bombs. For the next six days the Cuban Missile Crisis filled citizens with fear of global nuclear annihilation.
The leaders of both countries searched frantically for an end to this very real threat. Much later one of Kennedy’s advisors admitted at sunset on one of those days he spoke to another, “This could be the last sunset we ever see.” It mattered not if you were part of the inner circle or part of the masses, all knew this could be the end of civilization. On Oct. 28 a peaceful solution was found and there was a Halloween in 1962.
Halloween has been observed world-wide for centuries. Before the last day of October and both the first and second day of November became Christian holy days the Celts celebrated the dates as a time when spirits were active and supernatural beings were abroad.
They held elaborate festivals to remember the dead. To ward off any evil spirits they used costumes to disguise themselves as they went from house to house asking for food. This was called “guising” but others participated in “souling” where children and the poor would sing and say prayers for the dead in exchange for food. These celebrations were held throughout Great Britain, Ireland, Scotland and Wales into the late 1890s.
In 1911 a Canadian newspaper in Ontario mentioned that children had been “guising” on October 31. Reports of Halloween activities first appeared in the western United States soon after that and gradually moved to the east. It was the late 1940s before children’s magazine began including Halloween stories. Soon radio and finally television followed.
Many adults disapproved of the emphasis given to trick or treating because it seemed too much as begging. It was a surprise to learn that trick or treating was not considered a national event in the United States until the late 1950s.
Over the next sixty years the adult population became more interested in the possibilities Halloween offered. Just this week USA Today reported the results of a National Retail Federation survey. It asked 9,393 of its consumers how they will celebrate Halloween. 51.4 percent answered decorate the yard or home, 45 percent wear costumes and 36.2 percent were either giving or attending a party. In this year of 2012 zero percent mentioned trick or treating!
Even though it seems that on this eve of Halloween it is no longer just a children’s festival known as trick-or-treat I wish you happy memories of earlier days.