Thursday, October 28, 2010

Scottish, Irish immigrants celebrated Halloween

     The celebration of Halloween gained in popularity, in Bethlehem, towards the end of the 1800’s. Scottish and Irish immigrants brought the holiday to the United States from their homelands. Two million Irish arrived in the states, driven out of Ireland by the Great Irish Potato Famine (1845-1849). Most of the Scots who migrated here were tenant farmers (known as crofters) who were evicted from their land in the Highland of Scotland by the large-scale sheep rearing industry. Before the arrival of the Irish and Scots, there was a dominant Puritan influence that frowned upon the holiday. 
     The Bethlehem Globe Times November 1st editions of 1877, 1894 and 1902 document the increasing popularity of Halloween with Bethlehem residents. In the 1877 publication the editor notes in a brief paragraph that Halloween seems to be catching on. He mentions that children of the town enjoyed receiving nuts, apples and candy the previous evening. He describes a fortune telling game with apple seeds. He admonishes a few youths who threw cabbage heads, flour and dried corn kernels around town and for running away after ringing doorbells.
     The 1894 publication dedicated more than an entire column to describing the origin of Halloween and it traditions. By 1894, Halloween had been accepted as an American holiday. Children engaged in roasting nuts, dipping for apples and playing the game of three bowls of fate. In this game, a young woman or man sits before three bowls, blindfolded. One bowl is filled with clear water, the second bowl with discolored water and the third bowl left empty. He or she dips their left hand toward the bowls. If their fingers land in the clear water it is predicted that they will have a happy marriage. If their fingers touch the discolored water then they will be widowed. If they touch the empty dish, then no marriage is predicted.
     In 1902, the paper described a parade of over seven hundred children that marched through the main streets of Bethlehem. Every child wore a costume representing various nationalities. This is the first mention of wearing costumes on Halloween in Bethlehem. Later that evening the pranksters freely threw about corn, flour and cabbage heads. They removed business signs through out the city and placed them in new spots. The mischief makers switched the physician’s sign with the undertaker’s sign. There were several Halloween parties through out the city. Typical decorations were autumn leaves, corn stalks and jack-o-lanterns. Musical entertainment included singing the songs
“The Coffin Song,” “Ghost of Betsy Ross” and “Ghost of the Men of Harlem”. Childrens costumes were described as old maid, Japanese lady, a Quaker, a cavalier (a man wearing elaborate embellished clothes, and plumed hat), country maid and a city belle. Refreshments for the evening were apples, cider, lemonade, ices and corn on the cob.
     Children were entertained with games of blowing out candles, roasting apples and chestnuts and several games that shared the theme of finding one’s true mate. During the apple paring contest each guest peeled an apple with a paring knife attempting to cut the longest peel. They then threw the peel over their left shoulder and looked to see what letter was formed by the dropped peel on the floor. The letter discerned was the initial of their future spouse’ name.  Also at midnight, young girls tried to catch a reflection of their future husbands in a mirror. In another contest, Dumb Cake, required the following steps with the participants not uttering a word. Each person placed a hand full of flour on a piece of white paper then sprinkled a pinch of salt and water on the flour. They then mixed their ingredients into dough, flattened the dough and marked their initials on it. The individual cakes were baked and then served at midnight. Their future husband or wife selected their initialed cake to eat.
     The theme of many of these early Halloween games was to predict who and when a young person would marry. The games seem nostalgic and romantic however parents today would find then inappropriate. Even the costumes of that time seem quaint with children today preferring to dress up as Spiderman, a pirate, Sponge Bob, a princess and Barbie. The best selling Halloween candy yesterday and today is the tri-color candy corn. It was invented in the 1880’s by George Renninger. That reminds me, I need to buy some candy, right now!

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