Salem, Massachusetts has become known as ‘The Witch City,’ and each year many tourists flock there to celebrate Halloween. The town has become the centre of the celebration of the supernatural, in the United States, because of the witchcraft myths and legends associated with it. The crowd has been known to number as many as 250,000, and celebrators attend, not just to party, but to learn the history of the town’s witchcraft. The Salem Witch Trials that took place in 1692, and associated deaths, still horrify and fascinate the masses. The strict Puritan influence in the area, created the belief that the population had an overgrowth of witches and demonic forces. The witch population in Salem still exists today, and they continue to celebrate their New Year on Halloween, honouring the Celtic tradition of Samhain.
The Celts believed that the year was divided into two parts: summer, the lighter part, and winter, the darker one. Samhain was the midway point between both, and the time of year when the veil between this world and the next was the thinnest. During these two days, October 31st and November 1st, the Celts wore costumes to confuse the spirits that were roaming between worlds. They also used this time to celebrate their friends and family that were already dead.
Early North American settlers, such as those in Salem, began adopting these traditions. Many colonial houses still have ‘witch marks,’ that were made to protect the inhabitants from otherworldly entities that meant them harm. The Puritans in the North did not allow Pagan celebrations, but Southern colonies began celebrating a version of Halloween, by merging many of the Native American beliefs with the European traditions. Autumn parties that included telling ghost stories, playing pranks and reading each other’s fortunes, began to take place each year.
The current Halloween celebrations began in the mid-nineteenth century, when America was flooded with Irish immigrants attempting to escape the potato famine. They began dressing up on Halloween and going from door to door demanding refreshments. If the person in costume wasn’t given what they had asked for the home would be vandalised or a prank committed. This tradition became the foundation of present day ‘trick-or-treat.’
Salem, Massachusetts continues to be the home of Halloween and the entire town embraces its supernatural past at this time, allowing the celebration of the dead to continue for a month. The traditions of haunted happenings in Salem first took place in the 1970s, and grew from a single night’s party to the month long celebration it is today. The celebrations include fun-filled costumes balls and haunted houses, as well as walking tours and history lessons. Party goers are never disappointed, and many continue to return each year to celebrate.