Have you ever wondered about the story behind the holiday most people celebrate at the end of October? You may have heard of All Hallow’s Eve and how it became Halloween, but that is not how Halloween because what it is today.. How did trick or treating and jack-o-lanterns become one of the most popular holidays in the U.S. today? What about costumes and candy?
In the 18th century, Pope Gregory IIIdecided that the day of November first would be that day to honor saints and martyrs. This day was known as All Saints’ day.
In Samhain, (modern day Ireland, France, and UK) there was a Celtic festival that celebrated the end of nice long summer days, and the start of the chilly fall harvest days. The festival was associated with human death. The Celtics believed that the line between life and death became fainter and fainter until the 31st of October when the ghost of the dead returned to Earth. Many people died of the common cold during the fall and winter, due to inadequate medicine and immune systems causing them to die of a cold. That is the reason we say “bless you” when someone sneezes.
The Celts believed that the dead (ghosts… Boo!) came back to Earth and damaged crops and caused trouble among the people. The cold air was the real cause of this. The Celts also had priests that could predict the future. The presence of “un-worldly spirits” caused the priests to see and predict the future better. These predictions gave the frightened people comfort throughout the fall and winter.
The Druids would build sacred campfires for the people to come and make animal sacrifices to the deities they worshiped. The people who participated in the celebration came dressed in animal heads and skins (different from what we wear today but same concept). While in these costumes, the people tried to tell people their fortune. To end the celebration, the people would relight the extinguished hearth fires at home (they were extinguished that evening for the ceremony). It signified protection during the winter.
Apple bobbing, the beloved game of Fall where we dunk our heads in the water to collect apples with our teeth… Ever wonder who invented that game? By the time 43 A.D., the power-hungry Romans had conquered most of the Celtic territory. The Romans were polytheistic and had many gods. One of them, Pomona was celebrated during fall festival, Feralia, where the Romans show respect for the dead. Pomona was the goddess of fruit and trees whose symbol was an apple. It is believed that this is the origin of apple bobbing.
Halloween in America:
Like Christmas and many other holidays, Halloween spread to America during the Age of Exploration. It started in Colonial England, then it became more common in Maryland along the river. Next thing you know, everywhere feels the need to celebrate fall.
This tradition started in the 1940’s when children would go to neighborhood doors on Halloween and be given baked goods, fruit, nuts, toys, and coins. Once the 1950’s came along candy became more affordable due to the growing popularity of trick-or-treating. Finally in the 1970’s, candy became wrapped in factories to eliminate any suspicions of poisoned candy.
Who doesn’t love a good jack-o-lantern? This originated in Ireland from a man named Stingy Jack. It wasn’t always just pumpkins, large turnips were carved as well. The Irish brought it to America as they migrated. The story of Stingy Jack goes as follows: One night, Jack invited the devil for a drink and Jack refused to pay. He tricked the devil into turning into a coin to pay for the drink. Jack placed the coin next to a cross so that the devil couldn’t come out. Later he tricked the devil into climbing a tree for fruit and carved a cross into the tree to trap the devil. Each time the devil escaped, Jack would make the devil promised not to take him to Hell. When Jack died, he was not to go to Heaven because he behaved poorly. He was sent back to Earth with only a burning coal. He carved a turnip and put the coal in it as a sort of lantern-so came the name jack-o-lantern.
Halloween has changed, but still has its traditions. We may not practice certain traditions like people used to, but we still love them. Happy Halloween everyone!