Halloween in the 1800s

Painting by William Sidney Mount from 1838 of a Tea Leaf Reading at a Halloween Party, Public Domain

Painting by William Sidney Mount from 1838 of a Tea Leaf Reading at a Halloween Party, Public Domain

The name “Halloween” evolved over time. It was shortened from All Hallows’ Even and All Hallows Day — the evening of All Hallows’ Day and another name for All Saints’ Day, respectively. Eventually, it was contracted to “Halloween.”

Just as the name Halloween evolved, the holiday evolved too. It was initially influenced by Celtic-speaking countries with traditions such as Samhain, the ancient Celtic New Year celebrated near the end of October. Another influence was All Hallows’ Even. It was a day commemorated in May by Catholics for saints. Despite uneasiness by the church, the day became associated with supernatural ideas, particularly after repeated outbreaks of the bubonic plague occurred. All Souls’ Day also influenced Halloween. It was celebrated to honor the dead, and, similar to All Hallows’ Even, there was increased interest in death and the supernatural.

With supernatural leanings, customs related to Halloween also evolved. For instance, All Souls’ Day was celebrated by sharing small round cakes, known as “soul cakes.” These cakes were distributed door-to-door and given to soulers — primarily children and the poor. Each cake was considered to be a soul and each cake bought a soul respite from purgatory’s flames. This practice of giving and receiving is supposedly the origin for trick-or-treating.

Costumes associated with Halloween may have started in France during the fourteenth and fifteenth century as the French were known for dressing in costumes. After Guy Fawkes’ Day was established, celebrating revelers began to wear masks and demand beer and cakes. Many other Halloween’s activities soon became associated with Guy Fawkes’ Day, which diminished the holiday’s popularity in Great Britain. However, as it diminished in popularity in Great Britain, overseas Halloween became more popular.

Although there are few mentions of Halloween in the United States during the eighteenth century, but many mentions occur in the nineteenth century. That was because the Irish and Scottish immigrants celebrated Halloween. By the mid 1800s, their influence made the holiday popular with many Americans, so that by the late 1800s, it was heartily celebrated. Numerous articles on Halloween games were also published, which encouraged games to be played at Halloween parties, both by children and adults.

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