Spooky season is upon us! When I look around, I see leaves changing (even they are getting in the spirit!), I feel a bite to the once warm air, and I know that soon there will be things that go bump in the night. Like Christmas and Thanksgiving, Halloween has come into its own, gaining a fanatic fan base that is dying to let the festivities begin.
Most of us have our traditions. For me, it’s carving pumpkins, listening to Monster Mash while decorating, and of course, trick-or-treating (because no one is too old for tricks, or treats for that matter). But have you ever stopped to wonder why we have these traditions?
Halloween began as the Gaelic holiday of Samhain (pronounced sa-win). Contrary to popular belief, this wasn’t a holiday to resurrect the dead, but rather celebrate the end of the summer harvest and the coming of the cold, dark winter. Villages would hold massive bonfires, and for a night they would drink, feast, and celebrate their hard work. When the fires died down, the villagers would take a log back to their homes. Using these, they would light a fire in their hearth believing it would keep them safe and warm through the harsh winter months to come.
Well, ghouls and goblins, from these archaic rituals come the festivities we enjoy today. Including some of the most practiced activities, like the carving of Jack-O-Lanterns! The story of the Jack-O-Lantern starts with a man named ‘Stingy Jack’. Jack was the unsavory type, the outcast of his village. Jack tricked the devil to buy himself more time on Earth. When Jack inevitably passed away, he was not allowed into Heaven. So, he wandered down to the gates of Hell, where he begged and pleaded with the devil (who hadn’t forgotten Jack’s trickery). Keeping to his promise to never take his soul, the Devil refused Jack entrance, sending him off with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack then carved a turnip (not a pumpkin) and placed the coal inside to carry it and light his way. The people of Scotland and Ireland then began to carve scary or angry faces in turnips and potatoes, placing a candle in them to illuminate them in the windows or on porches to ward off the roaming Stingy Jack or any other ill-intentioned spirits. When the Irish migrated to America, they discovered that pumpkins were the perfect fit for Jack-O-Lanterns, thus giving us the family-friendly tradition we enjoy today.
Speaking of menacing faces, that leads me to the next tradition, costumes! This tradition is over 2000 years old. Back then, people believed that during the night of October 31st the barrier between the spirit world and the physical world grew thin, allowing mischievous ghosts to roam the world. People would offer treats or food to appease them. Some people would get into costume, posing as the spirits, and would pull pranks on townspeople. (This is where Trick-or-Treating comes from!) Over the years, costumes have changed. When Halloween came to America, costumes were typically homemade. But, thanks to manufacturing, costumes started to become more widely available and more aligned with pop culture. Now we have costumes across the spectrum, with everything from witches and vampires, to the latest show, musical sensation, or fantasy creature.
So, as you enjoy the Howliday with pumpkins, costumes, and everything else, I hope you can appreciate the history that has shape-shifted the spooky season into the one that we all know and love.