Halloween will be here before you know it. With everyone rushing out to buy the perfect costume, not all understand what this popular holiday is for. Here is the story of the origin of Halloween and common traditions of how it is celebrated in the United States.
Explanation of the origin of Halloween and story of the traditional Jack-O-Latern from Castle of Spirits.
What is Halloween? Is it worshipping demons? Is it spirits walking the earth?
The word “Halloween” is derived from a few things; All Saints Day (1st November), Eve of All Hallows (All Hallows Eve) or Hallow Even.
The celebration of Halloween was originally the New Years Eve of the Celts, the eve of Samhain or “Winter’s Eve”. It was generally believed that the dead or disembodied spirits of all those who had died throughout the preceding year would come back in search of living bodies to possess for the next year. It was believed to be their only hope for the afterlife. All who were alive of course didn’t want to be possessed by these lost souls so on the night of October 31st, villagers would extinguish the fires in their homes to make them cold and inhospitable then dress up in ghoulish costumes and parade around the neighborhood making as much noise as possible to frighten away the spirits looking for a live body to possess. Food and drink (which I’d say accounted for the crazy actions of the villages, not the fear of being possessed) would be left out for these costume wielding villages.
It was believed in ninth-century Europe that after you died, your soul remained in limbo. To send the souls up to Heaven the Christians used to go “souling”. On 31st October, All Souls Day, they would go around to all the villages and collect “soul cakes” – a cake made out of square pieces of bread with currants. The relatives of the dead would pass the cakes on to the Christians who would promise to pray for their relative which in turn would send them on to heaven. The more cakes given – the more prayers said. This is one custom which was thought that trick-or-treating originated from.
It is also thought that trick-or-treating came from Britain where it was know as “Mischief Night”, it is particularly popular in parts of northern England.
It could also of come from old Irish peasant practice in which they would go from door to door to collect money, breadcake, cheese, eggs, butter, nuts, apples, etc., in preparation for the festival of St. Columb Kill.
The Jack-O-lantern came from Irish Folklore. A man named Jack who was a drunkard and known for his quick temper got really drunk at the local Pub on All Hallows Eve. As his life began to slip away from him the Devil appeared to claim his soul. Jack wanted to stay alive and begged the Devil to let him have just one more drink before he died. The Devil agreed. Jack was short of money and asked the Devil if he’d assume the shape of a sixpence so Jack could buy a drink and after that the Devil could change back to himself. I don’t know why the Devil is suddenly so stupid, but he agreed to do it (silly Devil). Once the Devil assumed the shape of the coin Jack seized it and shoved it into his wallet which (amazingly) had a cross shaped clip on it. The Devil was now stuck in Jack’s wallet. He went crazy – yelling and screaming – ordering Jack to release him at once! Jack did a deal with him (oh yeah, smart move Jack) where he would release him if he agreed not to bother Jack for an entire year. The Devil was so anxious to be released he agreed.
Jack was ecstatic to have escaped the Devil and have a whole new lease on life. Jack mended his ways, for a little while at least. He was good to his wife and children and began attending church and giving to charity. But Jack slowly and surely slipped back to his old ways.
The next All Hallows Eve the Devil appeared to Jack again. He demanded that Jack accompany him to his death. Jack thought he could once again outsmart the Devil and somehow managed to con the incredibly stupid Devil into getting an apple out of a nearby apple tree. Jack even went so far as to hoist the Devil up the apple tree. Once the Devil was up the tree Jack took out a knife and carved a cross into the trunk of the tree – therefore trapping the Devil. The Devil went spare and started demanding to be released and yelling and screaming. He promised Jack that if he was let out of the tree he would give him 10 years of peace. Jack decided that wasn’t good enough and demanded that he never be bothered by the Devil again. The Devil agreed and was released from his apple tree trap.
Jack went back to his drunken and angry ways and after almost one year his body gave out and Jack died. He tried to enter Heaven but was refused entry because of his evil ways. He then tried to enter Hell – but the Devil would never forgive Jack for the tricks he played on him. The Devil decided to be helpful for once and threw Jack a coal, he said it was to help him find his way in the dark of limbo. Jack put the piece of coal in a turnip and it became known as a Jack-O-Lantern. It is said that on All Hallows Eve if you look hard enough you can still see Jack’s flame burning dimly as he searches through the darkness for a home.
The use of Jack-O-Lanterns as festival lights for Halloween is a custom that descended form the Irish who used carved out turnips or beets as lanterns. On Halloween these lights represented the souls of the dead. When the Irish immigrated to America they found that pumpkins were far more easier to come by than turnips. The Jack-O-Lantern then became a hollowed-out pumpkin lit with a candle.
The following is from Time and Date and discusses how Halloween is celebrated in America.
What do people do?
Halloween is usually celebrated amongst family, friends and, sometimes, co-workers. However, some areas hold large community events. Parties and other events may be planned on October 31 or in the weekends before and after this date. Adults may celebrate by watching horror films, holding costume parties or creating haunted houses or graveyards.
Many children dress up in fancy costumes and visit other homes in the neighborhood. At each house, they demand sweets, snacks or a small gift. If they do not get this, they threaten to do some harm to the inhabitants of the house. This is known as playing ‘trick-or-treat’ and is supposed to happen in a friendly spirit, with no nasty or mean tricks being carried out. However, if your children take part, it is important to accompany them and to check their ‘treats’ to make sure they are safe to eat or play with.
Some families carve lanterns with ‘scary’ faces out of pumpkins or other vegetables or decorate their homes and gardens in Halloween style. These were traditionally intended to ward off evil spirits. If you are at home on Halloween, it is a good idea to have a bowl of small presents or sweets to offer to anyone who knocks on your door. This will help you to please the little spirits in your neighborhood!
One cause that ties with Halloween is collecting donations for the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). As children trick-or-treat on Halloween night, some of them might carry small cardboard boxes with the UNICEF logo on them and collect coins instead of the usual candy. The money collected is then given to UNICEF and used to help needy children worldwide.
Halloween is not an official holiday. Government offices and businesses are open as usual and public transit services run on regular schedules. If you drive around in late afternoon or evening, it is important to keep a careful lookout for children who are unaccustomed to being out on the street after dark. If they are wearing dark costumes or masks, they may be less easy to see than normal. They may also be excited and dart out unexpectedly from between vehicles or behind bushes.
Halloween originated as a pagan festival in parts of Northern Europe, particularly around what is now the United Kingdom. Many European cultural traditions hold that Halloween is a time when magic is most potent and spirits can make contact with the physical world. In Christian times, it became a celebration of the evening beforeAll Saints’ Day. Immigrants from Scotland and Ireland brought the holiday to the United States.
The commercialization of Halloween started in the 1900s, when postcards and die-cut paper decorations were produced. Halloween costumes started to appear in stores in the 1930s and the custom of ‘trick-or-treat’ appeared in the 1950s. The types of products available in Halloween style increased with time. Now Halloween is a very profitable holiday for the manufacturers of costumes, yard decorations and candy.
There are various symbols associated with Halloween. These include the spooks, ghosts and walking skeletons that represent the contact between the spiritual and physical world and between the living and the dead. Human figures that are often represented on Halloween are witches and wizards, who are seen to have the power to contact the spirit world. Bats, black cats and spiders are often connected with this holiday. These animals are associated with the night and darkness and often accompany witches and wizards.
There are also a range of objects associated with Halloween. These include blood, fire, gravestones, pumpkins, bones and skulls. They all have connections with death, the spirit world or protecting property from evil spirits. Many of these objects are now available in stores as decorations for the Halloween season.
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