All Hallows Eve: A History of Halloween
History of Halloween:
Halloween is a fun holiday that kids and adults look forward to each year. It has its roots in history and folklore, and is now celebrated worldwide. As a child, what could be more fun than the amusement of dressing up, carving pumpkins, traipsing door to door for free candy, and counting up your stash at the end of the night?
But did you know that Halloween has its roots in the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain?
During this festival people would wear masks, costumes, and light bonfires to ward off evil spirits. They thought doing this would confuse the ghosts and keep them out of their paths, or at least, keep them unrecognizable. This was because they believed that on October 31st the dead returned to the earth.
This is when the beginning seeds of Halloween were planted.
Fast forward 2000 years and you see that the costume craze is still alive and well. Though now costumes and masks are not worn to evade the ghosts. They are usually worn to secure some candy, enjoy a night of fun with friends, or scare some neighborhood kids.
Costumes are a form of expression, if even just for one night, you can pretend to be whatever you choose. From the classic ghost, witch or movie star to embodying your favorite candy bar. This is such a unique chance, for young and old alike, to step out into the unknown, pretend to be someone or something else, and enjoy the childlike nature of it all.
The choices of dressing up are endless and fueled with your imagination.
History of Jack O’Lanterns:
Lighting up the pumpkins is another added layer to most Halloween celebrations. This can be traced this back to Ireland, where they carved out turnips and potatoes. Irish immigrants brought the tradition to America, and pumpkins were the perfect canvas for the carvings. The story about why we carve them and light them up begins with a man named Jack.
The Irish myth is about Jack, nicknamed “Stingy Jack” because he was so cheap. The account goes that Stingy Jack, true to his name, was having a drink with the devil. He didn’t want to pay for his drink so he convinced the devil to turn himself into a coin to pay for the drink. When the devil did, Jack put the coin in his pocket next to a silver cross, and trapped the devil in his pocket.
Eventually Jack agreed to free the devil IF the devil would leave him alone for a year and IF Jack should die, the devil wouldn’t claim his soul. The devil agreed.
The following year Jack and the devil were near a fruit tree. Jack tricked the devil into climbing up the tree to get a piece of fruit. Once the devil was up the tree, Jack carved a cross on the tree. The devil could not come down until he promised Jack he would not bother him for 10 more years.
Before the 10 years expired, Jack died. God did not allow Stingy Jack into heaven, but the devil wouldn’t allow him to come to hell either. The devil made Jack roam the earth with only a burning coal, which Jack placed in a carved out turnip. According to the legend, this is why the Irish call this ghostly figure, Jack of the Lantern, or Jack O’Lantern.
People of Ireland and Scotland carved out the turnips and made their own lanterns, placing them on window sills to frighten Stingy Jack and wandering spirits away. When the immigrants came to America, they brought this tradition with them and began using the pumpkin for their Jack O’Lanterns.
Families and friends gather together to create masterpieces or at my house, simple designs, into the pumpkin. This tradition brings families and communities together, as well as shows off the diversity of artistic talent that is highlighted, with LED lights, during this Halloween season.
History of Trick or Treating:
Going back a few thousand years, to the Celtic times, in addition to wearing the masks and costumes, they also thought food would appease the ghosts. They would leave out great feasts to keep the ghosts busy and contented.
Several centuries later, people would dress up as demons and ghosts and perform amusing behaviors for food and drinks. This custom, known as mumming, is thought to be the predecessor to trick or treating. Mumming dates back to the middle ages.
In England around 1000 A.D there was a tradition of “souling”, which has its roots in Christianity. ”Souling” is when poor people visit wealthier families and receive soul cakes.
These cakes were in exchange for the poor people praying for the souls of the wealthier families' deceased relatives. This practice of “souling” was later taken up by children, who would go door to door asking for money, food and drinks. Thus receiving their “treat”.
In Scotland however, children participated in a tradition called “guising” which included dressing up in costume and accepting various nuts, fruits or coins from other households. Though here they offered to tell a joke, sing a song, or recite a poem instead of praying for the dead. This is where the “trick” is thought to originate.
As Halloween has evolved and grown in popularity over the years there are many community events and themed parties that have become entertaining traditions to enjoy.
You can scare yourself silly with haunted houses, eerie corn mazes, creepy decorations, or frightening movies, all constructed to terrify. I guess adrenaline junkies love this stuff.
There are also family friendly pumpkin patches, trunk or treating, or even apple bobbing, which is more my speed. Really, there is something for everyone to enjoy as we welcome Fall with Halloween.
Halloween has wonderfully wrapped the traditions, ideas, folklore, and history of past generations and tied them all up in an exciting holiday that we can celebrate and pass down for future generations.