Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The History of Halloween

You might be surprised to learn that Halloween actually sprung from a festival the Ancient Celts, fearful of dying during long, frigid winters, would perform on the eve of November 1st. This was the night considered the end of Summer and beginning of Winter and the bridge between the living and dead. Village folk lit bonfires, sacrificed animals to deities, and wore animals skins and masks to disguise themselves from visiting ghosts and ghouls. The bonfires attracted bugs which in turn attracted bats which is why bats are still symbolic of this day.

Over the centuries the pagans held festivals to celebrate the Roman harvest on "All Saint's Day" or "All Hallows Eve". On All Hallows Eve children and the poor would go door to door "soulling" singing and saying prayers for the dead. In exchange for their prayers they were given soul cakes or Harcakes. Each cake represented a soul being freed from Purgatory. As wandering at night was dangerous with little light to guide their way, the beggars would take caution to avoid walking under ladders in case one were to fall or to step on cracks which could result in a nasty spill. People started to wear costumes to disguise themselves from visiting ghouls.

Turnip lanterns (the first Jack O' Lantern) were used as candle lanterns in Ireland and Scotland since inaugural All Hallows Eve festivals took place. During Samhain, a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and beginning of the darker half of the year, large turnips were hollowed out, carved with faces and placed in windows to ward off harmful spirits. In Scotland in 1895, masqueraders in disguise carried these turnip lanterns while out and about on Halloween. The term Jack O' Lantern was used to describe the lanterns after a tale of  Jack (known as Stingy Jack, a deceiver, manipulator, and drunkard) had a run in with the devil who had to meet him to see if he lived up to his reputation. After much trickery on Jack's part he persuaded the devil to turn himself into money so he could buy them drinks. Jack instead put the coin in his pocket next to a silver cross capturing the Devil. When Jack released the Devil it was on the terms that the devil would not claim his soul. When Jack died God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven and the Devil though still angry over being tricked kept his word not to take Jack's soul into hell. Therefore the Devil sent Jack off into the dark night with nothing but a piece of coal to light his way. Jack placed the piece of coal into a carved out turnip and has been roaming the earth ever since. The Irish referred to the ghostly figure as "Jack of the Lantern" and later simply as "Jack O' Lantern". When immigrants from these countries came to the United States they kept with this tradition. Only soon they discovered pumpkins, a fruit native to America, made perfect Jack O' Lanterns.