In searching for answers about the origins of Halloween, The Associated Press turned to Edmund Kern, an associate professor of history at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis., and Chris Riddle, creative director and Halloween expert at American Greetings in Cleveland.
Q: How did Halloween get its start? Has it changed a lot over the years?
A: Halloween gets its name from ''All Hallows' Eve,'' as Oct. 31 was called in England centuries ago. It was a night when people prayed for the dead to prepare for All Saints Day, a celebration of Roman Catholic saints, on Nov. 1.
But many people believe Halloween traditions started much earlier, in ancient festivals after the harvest. As the cold of winter was arriving, many thought boundaries between the living and the spirit world disappeared. The festival most commonly tied to Halloween is Samhain (pronounced ''SOW-en''), a pagan celebration started by the Celtic people in Ireland and Scotland on their New Year's eve.
According to Celtic folklore, the spirits of those who had died in the past year returned to possess the bodies of the living before traveling to the afterlife. Some say people dressed in ghoulish costumes and paraded around, screaming and yelling to frighten away the spirits.
Centuries later, Halloween turned into a harvest party for families and rowdy adults. During the second half of the 19th century, Scottish and Irish settlers brought some of the traditions to this country.
Q: How did trick-or-treating get started?
A: It started with two early European customs called ''mumming'' and ''souling,'' which merged into the lighthearted practice we know today. ''Mummers'' were mischievous revelers who dressed in outlandish costumes and demanded payment to restrain themselves. During the same time of year, families baked sweet cakes, or ''soul cakes,'' and gave them to family members and neighbors in exchange for prayers for relatives who had died.
Later, in Ireland, farmers went door-to-door asking for items for a village feast. Those who gave were promised prosperity. Those who didn't got warnings of bad luck. Pranks were -- and still are -- common.
Modern-day trick-or-treating caught on in this country after World War II.
Q: Why did people start wearing costumes? Any idea what will be popular this year?
A: Like trick-or-treating, wearing costumes has its roots in ''mumming,'' dressing up to engage in mischief.
While these days few people believe in witches, ghosts or goblins, they still enjoy bringing those figures from folklore ''back to life'' for a night by dressing up.
Of course, plenty of people don't wear scary costumes. This year it's likely that many will prefer dressing up as super heroes and characters from cartoons and books. Among the expected favorites: Spider-Man, cartoon stars SpongeBob SquarePants or the PowerPuff Girls, traditional princesses, and characters from ''The Lord of the Rings'' and the ever-popular Harry Potter books.
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