The history of Halloween and spirits (alcohol and ghosts)

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) - Spirits (alcohol) and spirits (ghosts) have a connection going back centuries, but how did the undead and alcohol get the same name?

“So the word spirit initially meant breath or life. And that’s where we get respiration - or expiration if you die - and even inspiration – that means the breath of God coming to you to give you ideas. Then breath and wind – you can’t really see, so that root becomes other things you can’t see, like ghosts," said Drink Historian Elizabeth Pearce.

Alchemists stumbled across alcohol in the 14th Century while trying to turn metal into gold.

“In doing all these experiments, they figured out a lot of other stuff, including how to distill! So the alcohol becomes this vapor, this steam – this thing that you can’t see. This product becomes ‘spirit’ and ‘spirits,’" said Pearce.

Both of these spirits have been a part of Halloween since ancient times! Halloween started off as a Pagan festival, marking the end of summer, a time when the dead could walk the Earth.

“Smart pagans, smart Celts would put out food and drink to keep the spirits happy, so that they would have a good harvest or a safe winter. When Christianity becomes more prevalent, the church decides instead of believing the dead can walk around, we’re just going to honor the dead. And All Hallow’s Eve precedes All Saints Day. Instead of waiting around and seeing if the deceased will show up or the ghosts would come people would dress as these spirits," said Pearce.

And so began trick -or-treating.

“Over hundreds and hundreds of years this tradition that originally was sacred, holy and connected to spiritual belief is eventually taken over by hordes of young drunk men who are wreaking havoc in America, in particular, in the late 19th century and so cities begin to crack down. It changes from adults going from house to house, being given the food and drink [to] kids getting candy," said Pearce.

We may have cut down on spirits but that hasn't dampened the Halloween spirit.