First U.S. city celebrates Halloween

Like Christmas, the holiday of Halloween is thought to have its roots in Celtic pagan tradition. Their festival of Samhain, taking place around October 31, marked the transition from fall harvest season of plenty to winter’s barren harshness: from life to death. The Catholic missionaries did not so much replace the old traditions as co-opt them: eighth-century Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints and martyrs, and the eve before All Saints Day was called All Hallow’s Eve. Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine brought the holiday to the United States, where it evolved into its current, more secular, form.

On this day, October 31, in 1920, Anoka, Minnesota became the first town in America to celebrate Halloween. The town had been plagued by a band of merry pranksters in the previous Halloweens, and decided to make a city-wide event to keep the teenagers occupied.

The Irish brought along the tradition of carving and hollowing vegetables, and placing candles inside to symbolize wandering ghosts. Dressing up in costumes and going door to door for treats may have come from a separate tradition of “Guy Fawkes Day,” every November 5, although “guising” goes back to the middle ages. Whatever religious aspects the holiday once had were stripped in favor of the dressing up, trick-or-treating (a term that only started to appear in the mid 1930s), and pranking.