Historical Halloween

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Snap-Apple Night by Daniel Maclise, 1833.
Snap-Apple Night was a kind of Halloween celebration.

Since it’s October, our thoughts have turned to the annual Hammond-Harwood House Pumpkin Walk, which will take place on October 26 from 4-6pm. In preparation for our celebrations, former Marketing Coordinator Elisabeth Berman did a bit of research on the historical origins of Halloween…

Halloween has quite the spooky history. Also known as “All Hallow’s Eve,” the annual holiday dates back to the 16th century. The term is derived from the fact that, in Christian religions, November 1 and 2 are typically celebrated as All Saints Day and All Souls Day, respectively. These two days allowed people to honor saints and pray for the recently departed.

However, it was believed that the souls of those departed wandered the earth until All Saints Day. All Hallow’s Eve gave them one last chance to exact revenge on their enemies before moving on to the afterlife. How could Christians in the 16th century avoid being recognized by a dead soul they had wronged? Wear masks and costumes! This tradition has carried on to present day.

They may not have had Snickers bars back then, but trick-or-treating does have a meaningful past. On November 1, the late-medieval poor would go from door to door in a practice known as “souling.” They would receive food in return for their prayers for the dead. Jack-O-Lanterns served a purpose as well – they were originally turnips carved into lanterns as a way of paying respect to the souls held in purgatory.

Halloween certainly has a darker past than I imagined, and I will be sure to pay my respects this year while handing out candy! Have a safe and happy Halloween!

Posted on Oct 5, 2012 in , , by Hammond-Harwood House



Hammond-Harwood House

The mission of the Hammond-Harwood House Association is to preserve and to interpret the architecturally significant Hammond-Harwood House Museum and its collection of fine and decorative arts, and to explore the diverse social history associated with its occupants, both free and enslaved, for the purposes of education and appreciation.
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