Among the bonny winding banks,
Where Doon rins, wimplin’ clear,
Where Bruce ance ruled the martial ranks,
And shook his Carrick spear,
Some merry, friendly, country-folks,
Together did convene,
To burn their nits, and pou their stocks,
And haud their Halloween
Fu’ blithe that night.
– Hallowe’en by Robert Burns
Although Halloween has its roots in the pagan practices of Scotland and Ireland, its name comes from the Scottish phrase “All Hallows’ Even”, the night before the Christian holiday, All Hallows’ Day. The word, Hallowe’en was first used in the 16th century. Halloween is most closely linked with the Celtic holiday, Samhain, the day, it was thought, in which the natural and supernatural realms were nearest to each other and the dead could revisit the living.
The Reformation brought Halloween rituals under attack, although the customs still flourished in most of Scotland and Ireland. Furthermore, the popularity of Guy Fawkes Night on November 5th every year also put a damper on Halloween in England. The Puritans who sailed to America did not bring the Halloween traditions with them and Halloween was largely ignored until the 19th century influx of Scottish and Irish immigrants. By the early 20th century, the popularity of Halloween in America had taken hold of the majority of the population.
Today, Halloween is a huge commercial enterprise. In the U.S., Halloween generates $2.4 billion in sales. More candy is sold on Halloween than Valentine’s Day and more parties are held on Halloween than on New Year’s Eve. In terms of gross sales, Halloween is second only to Christmas. Almost every television show and cartoon has a Halloween episode at some point and every comic has a Halloween theme as well. The two comic books, Batman’s “The Long Halloween” and “Garfield in Disguise” are two such examples.
At Special Collections, such spooky tales like The Night Hag and Dante’s Inferno might tickle your fancy this time of year. Come on by our Reading Room at 401 Ellis to take a look at our Halloween themed books and comics. Have a safe and happy Halloween!