With the arrival of fall, come pumpkins, scarecrows, bats and other spooky Halloween decorations. How did America incorporate this holiday into its seasonal celebrations? Scarecrows actually were used 3,000 years ago to ward off crows who were consuming the farmers’ corn. During medieval times, children would run through the fields throwing stones at the crows or clapping two pieces of wood together to frighten the birds away. However, after the Great Plague in Britain in 1348, there were not enough people left, so the Brits began building scarecrows to frighten the bothersome crows away. While scarecrows gained their popularity in the agricultural world, they have evolved into fall decorations, and today, are not frightening at all.

As for Halloween, it actually began 2,000 years ago in the Celtic world. The Celtic people celebrated the end of the harvest and the beginning of the new year. It was believed that the veil between the living and the dead was at its thinnest, and it became possible to commune with the spirit world. They would build large bonfires in honor of the dead. They also believed that their Celtic priests could predict the future during this time. They would not only build big bonfires, but would burn crops and sacrifice animals to their Celtic gods. They would attend these celebrations wearing costumes made of animal skins and the heads of animals. The huge bonfires would attract bugs, and bats would fly in to eat the bugs, so bats became associated with death. Nova Scotian mythology depicts bats as predicting the death of either the man or woman of the house depending on whether the bat settles into the house or if it simply flies around.

In 43 A.D., the Romans conquered the Celtic region, and they, too, celebrated the passing of the dead and called in “Feralia.” Christian priests attempted to replace this “pagan” holiday with “All Saints Day” to commemorate and pray for the souls of the dead. It became known as “All Hollows” and was celebrated November 1st. October 31st was known as “All Hollows Eve” which later became Halloween.

Irish immigrants introduced the jack-o’-lantern to America after the potato famine in Ireland in the mid-19th century. Jack-o’-lanterns were originally cut out of potatoes, beets, or turnips rather than pumpkins. By the end of the 1800s, American began celebrating Halloween with games, food, and costumes. Trick-or-Treating reached new heights in the 1950s, and is still practiced today by children everywhere. Halloween is not a national holiday, but is so popular that Americans spend $9.1 billion each year on this fun-filled holiday.




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