Happy Halloween!

On the night of October 31, many Americans celebrate the traditions of Halloween by dressing in costumes and telling tales of witches and ghosts. Children go from house to house—to “trick or treat”—collecting candy along the way. Communities also hold parades and parties.

House in Horse Creek decorated for Halloween. [Horse Creek, West Virginia]. Lyntha Scott Eiler, photographer, October 5, 1996. Tending the Commons: Folklife and Landscape in Southern West Virginia. American Folklife Center

…I heard a rustle in the hall. It sounded like the swish of a taffeta skirt. I looked up at the door and saw the figure of a woman go past. She had on a black taffeta dress and I didn’t see any head. I called out, “Who’s there?” Of course, nobody answered…. Just as the figure reached the door of the living room, it disappeared.

[Ghost Story]. Mrs. Laura M., interviewee; Dorothy West, interviewer; New York City, November 18, 1938. American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940. Manuscript Division

Halloween, also known as All Hallow’s Eve, originated as the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, meaning “summer’s end.” The autumnal holiday, rooted in Christian and pagan festivals—with elements of magic and mystery–celebrated the link between seasonal and life cycles. (Winter was then a time associated with death.)

October’s “Bright Blue Weather” A Good Time to Read!. Albert M. Bender, artist; Chicago: Illinois WPA Art Project, Aug. 30, 1940(Date stamped on verso). Posters: WPA Posters. Prints & Photographs Division

Halloween is now celebrated worldwide and reflects the assimilation of various cultures. In the twenty-first century, it has become a secular, and hugely commercial holiday.

Halloween decorations on Route 30; Farm markets on Route 30, New Jersey. Joseph P. Czarnecki, photographer, October 30, 1983. Pinelands Folklife Project [New Jersey]. American Folklife Center
Halloween party, Flora Lea Farms, New Jersey. Sue Samuelson, photographer, October 22, 1983. Pinelands Folklife Project [New Jersey]. American Folklife Center

Learn More