It’s that time of year again: time to get spooky, as the kids say—also known as Halloween, originally known as All Hallows’ Eve. October 31st, the beloved day on which children dress up as whatever their imagination can fathom, teenagers get a little liberal with the “trick” part of “trick or treat,” and adults observe the traditions of almost-heart attacks in watching horror movies and of eating up their kids’ candy before they wake up the next morning. What a time to be alive! But from where did all of these widely venerated customs of Halloween originate?
Halloween most likely began in ancient Celtic regions of Britain around 2,000 years ago as the festival of Samhain (pronounced SAH-win or SOW-in). Samhain marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, or the “darker half” of the year, as if it were an ancient Celtic New Year’s Eve. It would be celebrated from October 31st to November 1st. Samhain was believed to be a time when doorways to the “otherworld” opened, allowing spirits and supernatural beings to pass through into our world. This was essentially a “festival of the dead,” similar to Mexico’s Dia De Los Muertos—“Day of the Dead”—which celebrated from October 31st to November 2nd. Samhain is most likely where Halloween’s associations with ghosts, demons, and other beings of the supernatural originated.
But when was our beloved creepy, candy, costume-devoted holiday first come to be what we now know as Halloween? According to the Smithsonian, it was actually 1700’s Irish Christians who started the tradition of All Hallow’s Eve, whereas pagan Celts started Samhain many centuries earlier. All Hallow’s Eve, or All Saint’s Eve, was a celebration of the night before All Saint’s Day, November 1st. This was a time in the liturgical year that Christians had devoted to honoring those who have passed on to eternal life, especially saints. Over the years, the name of this night of spirits was compressed from All Hallow’s Eve into Halloween. (Smithsonian).
Now that you’ve had that little history lesson, it’s time to face the hard questions: Who in their right mind decided to let kids go asking strangers for candy? Why do we stick a knife into a technical fruit and carve a face out of it? Why do kids dress as cool things but teenagers and adults come in like “I’m me but with cat whiskers and cat ears, cute right?” The Seton Connection has answers for these questions as well. (That last part did have us stumped, though.)
The carving of jack-o’-lanterns—or, as vegetarians call it, carving the turkey on Halloweensgiving—comes from the All Hallow’s Eve tradition of carving turnips. That’s right, turnips. Ireland didn’t have pumpkins, people. Frightening faces would be carved into turnips, a burning ember placed inside of them, and set out to scare off evil spirits that might come during this time when spirits were believed to visit our world. (Now, imagine having a creepy red-glowing ember in a jack o’lantern rather than a cutesy electric candle. Talk about creepy. And we at The Seton Connection encourage you to look up a picture of a turnip-o’-lantern next time you feel the need to get that spooky horror movie thrill. It has the same effect.) It wasn’t until this tradition was brought to North America by Irish immigrants that pumpkins were used instead, simply due to the higher availability of pumpkins rather than turnips. (Wikipedia).
Dressing up on Halloween as a favorite character, monster, just something fun is one of the most popular forms of celebrating the holiday. Even some adults dress up on Halloween, whether it be all-out—a full-fledged It costume, creepy Pennywise makeup, voice, etc., falls under this category—or simple—“Three-Hole-Punch Jim” from The Office, we’re looking at you. Though we haven’t been able to fathom the psychology behind people who don’t even try to spice up their Halloween costumes, we have found where the tradition came from. During the Middle-Ages, it’s said that children and even sometimes poor adults would dress up as angels, saints, or even the occasional demons, and they would then beg for food or money in exchange for songs or prayers, which were usually said on behalf of the dead. This begging is how trick-or-treating came about. This tradition was nicknamed “souling,” the would-be trick-or-treaters called “soulers”—creepy names to fit the creepy holiday. Other sources say that dressing up as spirits would trick actual supernatural beings passing over into the world of the living into thinking that the soulers were spirits as well, and would not harm them. (History.com)
Now that you know all about how these quirky Halloween customs came about, we at The Seton Connection hope you have enough knowledge about the spooky holiday to exchange for candy at your next Halloween party or on your “souling” route. Remember kids: dress up as wildly as your inner Halloween-loving child wants, please do not carve a creepy turnip jack-o’-lantern for all our sakes’, and look up cool Halloween facts in your spare time (we guarantee it will be worth it).
History.com Staff. “History of Halloween.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 2009, http://www.history.com/topics/halloween/history-of-halloween.
“Samhain.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 29 Oct. 2017, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samhain.