Did the citizens of colonial America celebrate Halloween? The answer is yes, but not in the way you may think. An historian with Colonial Williamsburg points out just how different Halloween was for our colonial ancestors:
With the arrival of European immigrants to the United States of America, came the varied Halloween customs indigenous to their former homelands. However, due to the rigid Protestant beliefs which characterized early New England, celebration of Halloween in colonial times was extremely limited in that particular area of the country. Halloween festivities were much more common in Maryland and the colonies located in the South. As the customs practiced by these varied European ethnic groups meshed with traditions employed by the native American Indians, a distinctly American version of Halloween began to emerge.
The first celebrations included "play parties," public events held to celebrate the harvest. At these gatherings, neighbors would share stories of the dead, predict each others' fortunes, sing and make merry with dancing. Colonial Halloween festivities also featured the telling of ghost stories and general mischief-making of all kinds. By the middle of the 19th Century, annual Autumn festivals were quite common, but Halloween was still not yet celebrated throughout the entire country.
During the second half of the 19th Century, America became flooded with a new wave of immigrants. These new arrivals...especially the millions of Irish nationals who were fleeing from the Potato Famine of 1846...helped greatly in popularizing the celebration of Halloween on a country-wide level. Taking from Irish and English traditions, Americans began to don costumes and journey from house-to-house asking for food or money (the probable forerunners of today's "trick-or-treaters"). Young women held the belief that they could divine the name or appearance of their future husband by performing tricks with yarn, apple peelings or mirrors.