I said last week that it was impossible to track the beginnings of Halloween.
We do know that it’s linked to early harvest rites that were often further linked into death and renewal nights (Samhain being one of them).
(A minor sidetrack, I said years ago that I didn’t see the connection between Samhain and fae faiths. Being too trained not to, I have readjusted that stance in the years since. I’m just too lazy to go back and readjust that entry. But, yes, I’m willing to meet people further up the road on that one, though I’m still not sure that that the mounds were the main drive of that holiday.)
(A complete sidetrack, speaking of faeries and Halloween. Try coming up with a fast, simple, yet thorough way of describing the sluagh and the Wild Hunt to someone who knows absolutely nothing about fae lore.)
Once the Catholic church rose to cultural dominance, the holiday that we now call Halloween began to take shape-but we don’t have a set, easily verifiable date to look at and say, ‘this is the year that it tipped over into what we would recognize as Halloween.’
Except for the United States and a city called Anoka.
Prior to the 1920s, there was really nothing to control children and teens from heavy pranking during events such as Nut Crack and Bonfire Nights. Halloween was practiced, but it was mainly a home-based holiday with parties and other events held on private property. While there was limited practice of treat or treating at the time, it was not as well established as a cultural icon as it would be in later decades. The pranking aspect of the holiday was in full force, leading up to Halloween night proper.
Towns would wake up destruction from the annoying but not necessarily completely damaging such as eggings and toilet paper to outright destruction of property and thefts.
In Anoka Minnesota, a town leader named George Green held a meeting in 1920 to address the pranking issue in a manner that would fulfill the population’s desire for social outlets, interesting enough to divert attention away from pranking and other less than desired activities, and community minded. What the town decided to put together was the first known civic Halloween event-which solidifies the town as the birthplace of American Halloween as we know it (sorry Salem, you have nothing to do with this one).
The events included a giant bonfire that has been held every year since, other than years affected by World War II in the 1940s, a giant parade, and mass distribution of candy. According to Anoka’s history website, the event has changed over the years to account for changing tastes; at one point, a giant snake dance was involved.
Was the Anoka the first place in the United States to shift into a ‘modern’ style Halloween? Probably not. In fact, I would be more surprised if it was. But Anoka has been acknowledged as the first place to fully ritualize it as a community event. Therefore, in a sense, you can date American Halloween to Minnesota, 1920.