Writers Research – Halloween

Halloween – A History Snippet
by Phyllis Middleton

I thought about what to write today. Halloween is just around the corner on the calendar. Do I write about costumes? Parties? Treat…yum? Once I started researching Halloween, I decided to pass along some of the bits of interesting history the internet was able to provide.

Straddling the line between fall and winter, Halloween is a time of celebration and superstition. It is thought to have originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, which is seen as ‘autumn’s end’ and the beginning of winter. Samhain is pronounced (depending on where you’re from) as ‘sow-in’ (in Ireland…the land of my ancestors), or ‘sow-een’ (in Wales), or ‘sav-en’ (in Scotland), or (inevitably) ‘sam-hane’ (in the U.S., where we don’t speak Gaelic). During this festival, people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts.

In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints and martyrs; the holiday, All Saints’ Day, incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before was known as All Hallows’ Eve and later Halloween. Over time, Halloween evolved into a secular, community-based event characterized by child-friendly activities such as trick-or-treating.

Trick or Treat – Old Style
Trick or treating consisted of begging at the door grew from an ancient English custom of knocking at doors to beg for a “soul cake” in return for which the beggars promised to pray for the dead of the household. Soul cakes, a form of shortbread — and sometimes quite fancy, with currants for eyes — became more important for the beggars than prayers for the dead, it is said.

Florence Berger tells in her Cooking for Christ a legend of a zealous cook who vowed she would invent soul cakes to remind them of eternity at every bite. So she cut a hole in the middle and dropped it in hot fat, and behold, the donut was born. The circle suggests the never-ending of eternity. Truth or legend ?

The refrains sung at the door varied from “a soul cake, a soul cake, have mercy on all Christian souls for a soul cake,” to the later:

Soul, soul, an apple or two,
If you haven’t an apple, a pear will do,
One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for the Man Who made us all.

Halloween today, to most of us, Halloween means fun costumes and creative food at parties. Candy runs of the neighborhood with little ones and mom or dad. The older ones try to dare each other to stay in the ‘haunted house’ vacant for years at the creepy corner or tease the mean old woman better known as ‘the witch’. There is not much left of the old traditions that hasn’t been commercialized, but then again, I’m not thrilled with the “spirits” running amok either. I will continue to pretend to be scared when I open the door and the kids yell “Trick or Treat” in their cute little costumes.

Back in my cop days, we had a Sargeant who had a sense of humor different than most. That humor led to a memo to those of us who had to work patrol on Halloween. It was a simple message: Memo: When responding to calls, do NOT go to the door and say Trick or Treat.


About phyllismiddleton

Bio Phyllis Middleton is a former law enforcement officer who worked as a Deputy Sheriff, a City Police Officer and a Senior Investigator for the Coroner’s Office. During her twenty years of service, her expertise ranged from patrol and investigations to a certified police instructor, a crime scene and death scene investigations specialist. She’s been writing stories since age 13 but didn’t take it seriously until 2005 when she joined Romance Writers of America (RWA) and the Dallas Area Romance Authors (DARA). There she learned the craft of writing with the goal of publishing. She teaches online Death and Crime Scene Investigation online classes to writers.
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