Halloween is not a real holiday (note: I say that statement after Halloween is over, I did not want to spoil it for you). You don't get a paid day off and the mail is delivered. So why is Halloween celebrated?
Well, it's an ancient tradition dating back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. Plus over the years the day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark. Back then, people liked to build huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities.
The American tradition of "trick-or-treating" probably dates back to the early All Souls' Day parades in England. During the festivities, poor citizens would beg for food and families would give them pastries called "soul cakes" in return for their promise to pray for the family's dead relatives. The tradition of dressing in costume for Halloween has both European and Celtic roots.
On Halloween, when it was believed that ghosts came back to the earthly world, people thought that they would encounter ghosts if they left their homes. To avoid being recognized by these ghosts, people would wear masks when they left their homes after dark so that the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits.
As European immigrants came to America, they brought their varied Halloween customs with them. It was much more common in Maryland and the southern colonies. As the beliefs and customs of different European ethnic groups, as well as the American Indians, meshed, a distinctly American version of Halloween began to emerge.
America was flooded with new immigrants. These new immigrants, especially the millions of Irish fleeing Ireland's potato famine of 1846, helped to popularize the celebration of Halloween nationally. Taking from Irish and English traditions, Americans began to dress up in costumes and go house-to-house asking for food or money, a practice that eventually became today's "trick-or-treat" tradition.
It seems to me that this holiday will always stand on its own and rightfully so. Although you do get a lot of candy, it would be nice to have the day off. This holiday out of the entire one we celebrate has something for everyone. But the coolest thing is the fact that Halloween is not just for kids.
I often wonder why Halloween is so popular? As a former pagan tradition, how it survived the puritan birth of this country I'll never know. Maybe it is the one night a year we can be something different and still be accepted.