Happy Halloween. This is my favorite holiday, right up there with christmas. I love that it encourages us to be frivolous, and fun, and commune with our neighbors in a time that usually tagged as dangerous. I love the leaves in the fall, the oranges and reds before Colorado turns brown for the winter, and of course the pumpkins.
For you history nerds here are some notes on Halloween from those in the know.
"Halloween is based on an ancient Celtic holiday known as Samhain (pronounced "sow wan"), which means 'summer's end.' It was the end of the Celtic year, starting at sundown on October 31st and going through to sundown November 1st. It was a night to honor loved ones that had passed on since the veil between their realm and ours is at it's thinnest on that night.
Celebrated for centuries by the Celts of old, Witches and many other nature based religions, it is the most magical night of the year. It is the Witches' New Year, and the Last Harvest." - From Pumpkin Carving 101
We can thank the Irish for jack-o-lanterns, one of my favorite traditions (especially after I discovered patterns!). According to History.com, "The practice originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed 'Stingy Jack.' According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul.
The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree’s bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years. Soon after, Jack died. As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell. He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as “Jack of the Lantern,” and then, simply “Jack O’Lantern.”
In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack’s lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits. In England, large beets are used. Immigrants from these countries brought the jack o’lantern tradition with them when they came to the United States. They soon found that pumpkins, a fruit native to America, make perfect jack-o’-lanterns." (As a writer I wonder what tricks Stingy Jack could have come up with that worked on the Devil.)
As always, my favorite Edwardian Promenade tells us a bit more about how these traditions became part of American Culture. "Despite its roots in European paganism, Halloween is a thoroughly American holiday. During the Gilded Age, Americans took Halloween quite seriously, even going so far as to celebrate it wherever they happened to be–as German society soon discovered when the expatriates residing in Berlin shook up the Kaiser’s capital with 'games, Jack-o-lanterns, mince pies, and other Hallowe’en hijinks.' Americans of this time spread their Hallowe’en celebrations from the 31st of October until the morning of the 3rd of November, a period know as Allhallowtide.
During the Colonial era, only those who kept the customs of England celebrated Hallowe’en, partaking of such amusements as apple-ducking and snapping, and girls trying the apple-paring charm to reveal their lovers’ initials and the comb-and-mirror test to see their faces. Otherwise, ballads were sung and stories told–for the dead were thought to return on Hallowe’en. [The customs took root] in American culture until the late 1840s, when the widespread migration of the Irish to the United States, and the immigration of the Scottish after the 1870s, solidified the popularity of the holiday. Hallowe’en was initially a home celebration, where Irish- and Scottish-Americans hosted parties and balls, with perhaps a recitation of Robert Burns’ poem “Halloween” or a telling of Irish legends.
By the turn-of-the century the holiday was thoroughly commercialized. Halloween postcards, and decorations were soldby Dennison Manufacturing Company (which published its first Halloween catalog in 1909) and the Beistle Company. It [also became] thoroughly unsafe, with vandalism and violence in the streets terrorizing the holiday. By the 1910s neighborhood organizations came together to encourage a safe Halloween. Rather than playing tricks on their neighbors, children went from door to door receiving treats. By the 1930s, “beggar’s nights” had become very popular, and the concept of “trick-or-treating” rose in popularity and became the practice for Halloween celebrations after WWII."