Holiday nothing to fear

October 16, 2007

Halloween is an annual celebration, but just what is it actually a celebration of? And how did this peculiar custom originate?

The word "Halloween" has its origin from the Catholic Church. It comes from All Hallows Eve, Nov. 1, "All Hollows Day" -- or "All Saints Day"-- a Catholic day of observance in honor of saints.

But, in the 5th century B.C., in Celtic Ireland, summer officially ended on Oct. 31. The holiday was called Samhain (sow-en), the Celtic New year. The custom of Halloween was brought to America in the 1840s by Irish immigrants fleeing their country's potato famine.

The custom of trick-or-treating is thought to have originated not with the Irish Celts, but with a ninth-century European custom called "souling." On Nov. 2, All Souls Day, early Christians would walk from village to village begging for "soul cakes," made out of square pieces of bread with currants. The more soul cakes the beggars would receive, the more prayers they would promise to say on behalf of the dead relatives of the donors.

Other accounts of Celtic history debunk these stories as myth. But, what about the other side of Halloween, as some claim: Is it a day surrounded by stories of hauntings and spirits? Or is it just a harmless vestige of some ancient pagan ritual? According to the Will County Ghost Hunters Society -- whose members believe in ghosts, hauntings, and of haunted places -- we have such occurrences right here in our town.

Here are some of the stories you may find at

• In the late 1970s, a team of psychics investigated the Frank Shaver Allen house, corner of Morgan and Dewey streets, and found unusual happenings and a wave of "supernatural occurrences" there. The Haley Mansion built by Frank Shaver Allen in the 1800s, has had "many things happen there that cannot be explained."

• Some claim that our beautiful Rialto Square Theater is haunted by the ghost of "an unidentified woman, who roams the dark passages of the theater, mostly after hours," and "has been encountered by a number of employees and visitors."

So, whatever the story, and although some cults may have adopted Halloween as their favorite "holiday," the day itself did not grow out of evil practices. Today, many churches have Halloween parties or pumpkin carving events for the kids. Halloween is a fun, exciting, and terrifying holiday all at the same time!

After all, the day itself is only as evil as one cares to make it.