Halloween

So how many of you think Halloween came from America?  Well you would be excused if you did.  America embraced the celebration of Halloween long before we did here in the UK.

The name Halloween comes from the name All Hallows Eve.

What you may not know, is that Halloween first came about from the Celts.  So effectively, it originates from Northern Ireland, Northern France and here in the UK.  In fact Ireland has a bank holiday around this time.   The Celtic festival of Samhain was the start of what you know today.  It is thought that people would light bonfires and wear costumes to keep away ghosts.

31st October marked the end of summer and the harvest.  As we all know too well, we now move into dark and very cold winter nights.  In days gone by, and probably a bit today, it was expected that more people would die during this time.  Mostly from the cold,  I would imagine.

All Saints day which falls on 1 November was designated by Pope Gregory III to honour saints. It was also said to be the start of the new year.

The Celts believed the night before the new year, the boundary between the living and the dead became blurred.  It is thought that on Hallows Eve, or Samhain as it was then, ghosts of the dead, came back to earth.

They were said to damage crops and cause mayhem.  The Celts felt that this made it easier for Druids (Celtic priests) to make predictions on the future.  In those days, people relied on these predictions to help them through the long winters.

To celebrate this time, Druids built big bonfires, where crops and animals were burnt as a sacrifice.  The Celts wore costumes of animal heads and skins, which is probably where the dressing up comes from today.

Women even thought that by doing tricks with yarn, tossing apple skins over their shoulder or throwing nuts into a fire, they would find out who their potential husband were.

When Rome conquered the Celts, they combined their own festivals with that of Samhain.

Feralia was toward the end of October where the Romans commemorated the passing of the dead.  Together with celebration for Pomona, the goddess of fruit and trees they were combined with Samhain.  Pomona was represented by an apple, and it is thought that the tradition of apple bobbing came from this.

So with its origins in Europe, how did it get so big in America?  The simple answer is, from migrates from Ireland, many thought to have gone there around the time of the Potato famine.

It was in America, that the traditions of today of trick or treating came about.  They would go from house to house collecting money or food.

By the 1800’s, some of the superstitions and religion had started to disappear from the celebrations.   By the twentieth century it became what is it today.

The pumpkin became part our tradition from a couple of different old Irish tales.  The first was that the Celts carved faces into vegetables, placed a light inside them of a candle or piece of coal, to light the way to their homes for the good spirits.  In those days it was mostly turnips and squash.

The second is about a man called Stringy Jack.  It is said that in the 18th Century, Jack tried to pull a fast one on the devil.  Jack was a drunk.  He asked the devil to go for a drink with him.  When the bill came he had no money to pay for it, so he persuaded the devil to turn himself into a six pence coin.  The devil did so, but instead of paying the bill, Jack put the coin in his pocket and left.

The devil remained until one day he felt guilty for what he did.  He said to the devil that he would let him out if he promised to leave him alone for a period of time which varies depending on which story you read.  The devil agreed.  When the time was up he went after Jack.
Jack convinced the devil to go up a tree to get him an apple before going with him to Hell.

As he was climbing, Jack carved a cross in the tree, trapping the devil again.

Once again Jack’s conscious got the better of him.  He agreed to let the devil down if he promised never to come for him again.  The devil agreed.

When Jack dies, St Peter refused him at the gates of heaven because of his behaviour.  The problem was that Jack had made an agreement with the devil, which meant he couldn’t go to hell either!

Eventually Jack was given a lump of hot coal by the devil to light his way through purgatory.   Jack was said to have carried the coal inside a hollowed out turnip.

Irish families would place a turnip in their windows to stop Jack and other ghosts coming in.  The scary faces were to frighten away anyone trying.

When Halloween arrived in America, immigrants decided pumpkins, which were plentiful there, were a better option for this tradition.  They soon became know there as jack-o-lanterns.

Now you know where it came from – Happy Halloween!

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