Happy Hallowe’en gals and ghouls! Today I thought I would give you a bit of edumacation on the history of my favourite holiday and the different aspects of it.
Samhain (pronounce sow-in) is often referenced as one of the first “Halloween” celebrations or acknowledgements in history. This holiday was celebrated by the Celts over 2000 years ago in what we now know as Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Northern France.
The Celtic “New Year” was celebrated on November 1st and marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter months; a time that was generally associated with human death and decay. They believed that on the night before the New Year, October 31st, the barrier between the living realm and the realm of the dead was thinned so much that the dead could pass through and come back into the realm of the living. Each year they would celebrate from sunset on October 31st to sunset on November 1st to invite the dead into their world and to hopefully avoid any negative events happening from unhappy souls. This is also where the tradition of “Mumming” began, but we will touch more on that a little bit later.
Over time, the celebration of Samhain, as well as the Catholic holidays of “All Saints Day” and “All Souls Day” merged into what we now know as Halloween, or “All Hallows Eve“. It is also still celebrated as it was 2000 years ago by people of the Wiccan religion who use the day to celebrate loved ones who have passed.
I’m sure many of you have heard of the well known “Day of the Dead”, a Mexican holiday that is celebrated in order to honour the dead. The official name for this day is “Los Dias de Los Muertos” and it combines an ancient Aztec ritual with Catholicism through “All Saints Day” and “All Souls Day” which is the same day that Los Dias de Los Muertos is celebrated on each year.
In Mexican culture, it is believed that the souls of the deceased are still a part of the Mexican community and they should still have the chance to celebrate everything that they enjoyed in life. Celebrations include bright colours, food, drink, parties and other activities such as music and dancing. The most well known symbols of this holiday are the “Calacas” and “Calaveras” which translates to Skeletons and Skulls, or “sugar skulls” which can be seen on candied sweets, parade masks, face paint and dolls throughout the holiday.
One of the most interested stories in relation to the history of Halloween, in my opinion, is the story of how the Jack O Lantern came to be a popular western tradition on All Hallows Eve. The tradition started in Ireland, where they originally carved faces into turnips and potatoes as pumpkins were not used until the tradition was brought over to America, where the fruit was more easily accessible.
The name “Jack O Lantern” however, is where the story gets a little bit more interesting. This title is derived from an old Irish folk tale about a man named Stingy Jack, and the story goes a little something like this.
The legend of Stingy Jack states that one day, Jack invited the Devil to share a drink with him at a local bar. Jack was too “Stingy” (see what they did there?) to pay for their beverages, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that he could use to pay with. Afterward, Jack decided to keep the Devil in coin form in his pant pocket, right next to a silver cross which prevented the Devil from transforming back into his original state. Eventually, Jack agreed to release the Devil from the coin as long as he agreed to one condition; that he would not bother Jack for one year’s time. The Devil agreed and they went their separate ways.
The story states that Jack did the exact same thing precisely one year later when the Devil came to visit him once again, except this time he convinced the Devil to climb a tree to retrieve something from a high branch. While the Devil was climbing, Jack carved a cross into the trunk of the tree, preventing the Devil from climbing back down. Again, Jack agreed to let the Devil go so long as he agreed to leave him alone for ten years this time and he also had to agree not to steal Jack’s soul should he meet an untimely death. Once again, the Devil agreed and they went their separate ways.
Not long after, when Jack finally passed away, he was denied entrance into Heaven and the Devil would not accept him into Hell, but he did provide him with a single burning coal to use as a source of light while he roamed the Earth for all of eternity. Jack used a turnip to carve a lantern in order to carry his coal on his journey’s and it is said that he still roams the Earth to this day, but now he is known as “Jack O’Lantern”.
In Ireland and Scotland, families believed this tall tale and began placing similar lanterns on their front stoop on Halloween to ward off Stingy Jack and other unwanted visitors.
As I mentioned earlier, the act of “Mumming” was introduced during Samhain over 2000 years ago. During the time between sunset on October 31st and sunset on November 1st, villagers would disguise themselves in costumes made on animal skins in hopes of scaring away phantoms and monsters as they walked among them. Tables were left out with offerings of food to appease unwelcome spirits and to guide them away from the innocent villagers.
Centuries later, dating back to the middle ages, villagers started dressing in costumes as ghosts and other monsters and performing “antics” or tricks in exchange for food and drink. This was known as “Mumming” and was the early development of what we now know as Trick or Treating.
Thank you for joining me for this special Halloween edition. I hope you learned a little bit more about my favourite holiday and maybe you can even use these facts to scare some good ol’ trick-or-treaters tonight!
Until next time, keep it spooky…. and have a Happy Halloween!