Halloween History in a Pumpkin-Shell

Halloween History in a Pumpkin ShellHalloween Today …

Spiderwebs, vampires, bats, ghosts, witchcraft, pumpkins, costumes, the colors orange and black … I could only be talking about one thing and that is Halloween. Because that’s what people associate with the spooky, annual event nowadays. But how accurate are these affiliations really? What’s the deal with the pumpkin tradition and scary costumes? Why do children run around neighborhoods at night, knocking on people’s doors screaming trick or treat? I’m interested to know how far have we have drifted off  from the origin of this annual holiday, so I’ve done some digging …

Halloween Back in the Day …

As it turns out, these contemporary traditions are the result of an extended adaptation process from the original Celtic festival called Samhain (pronounced sow-in) to the American to-date version of Halloween. Though a secular holiday today, Halloween was once very much influenced by superstition and religious beliefs based on Celtic and Christian tradition nearly 2000 years ago. The Celts, who lived in an area now spanning across geographical regions of today’s Ireland, the U.K. and Northern France, celebrated the so-called Celtic New Year on November 1st, the day believed to be the in-between day of summer (prosperity) and winter, the season associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night between October 31 and November 1 the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. These ghosts were welcomed at sacred bonfires by Celts dressed up in costumes consisting of animals’ heads and skins. This historic and supersticious Celtic celebration later merged with Roman festivals that honored the saints and martyrs (All Saint’s Day, on November 1.) All Saint’s Day also went by the name All-hallows (derived from the Middle English term Alholowmesse, meaning All Saint’s day.) Samhain, which is celebrated the night before thus was dubbed All-hallows Eve. The two combined became to be known as Hallowmas that eventually turned into the widespread, vernacular term used since, Halloween.

Halloween Traditions Unearthed …

Trick-or-treat: Dates back to All Saint’s Day in the Middle ages  when poor folk went knocking from one door to the next begging for food. They were offered the so-called soul cakes and had to deliver prayers for the dead in return.

Costumes: Celts wore costumes when they left their homes at night because that way, they believed the ghosts who returned from the dead would mistake them for fellow spirits.

Pumpkins (Jack O’ Lantern): Most likely dates back to Irish folklore, which refers to a shrewd farmer dubbed Stingy Jack who tricked the devil one day and paid for it later when it was his time to go. He was barred from heaven and hell and was tossed an ember by the devil that Jack placed inside a carved turnip that he would use to guide his roaming way around the night.

Bobbing for apples: All Hallows’ Eve has long been a time to look into the future (the Celts believed that the ghosts returning from the dead would help Celtic priests make predictions about the future.) Traditional festivities also included several divination rituals. This is where the apple comes in. The apple fruit was associated with female deities that control all the ways of love. By tradition, apples were strung and whoever was the first to get a bite of the apple was said to be the next in line to wed. Hence we have the rite of apple cider, candy apples and apple bobbing in today’s Halloween.

All Saint’s DayAll Saint’s Day

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