When you think of Halloween, you're likely to conjure up images of Jack o'-lanterns, superhero costumes, and haunted houses.
Often lost among all the costumes, decorations, and sugar is the origin of the holiday. The word Halloween is derived from the term, "All Hallows Eve," which occurred on Oct. 31. "All Saints Day" or "All Hallows Day" was the next Day, Nov. 1st. Therefore, Halloween is the eve of All Saints Day. Some say that the origins of Halloween can be traced back to ancient Ireland and Scotland around the time of Christ. On October 31st, the Celts celebrated the day because it was when animal herders would move their animals into barns and pens and prepare to wait out the winter. This was also the time of the crop harvests. This annual change of season and lifestyle was marked by a festival called Samhain, pronounced 'sow-ane' (Sow rhymes with cow) which means 'end of summer.'
There was much superstition associated with this time of change, including the belief in fairies and that the spirits of the dead wandered around looking for bodies to inhabit. Since the living did not want to be possessed by spirits, they dressed up in costumes and paraded around the streets making loud noises to confuse and frighten the spirits away. In addition, the new year began for the Celts on November 1. So, the day of Samhain was believed to be a day that was in neither the year past or the year to come. Since it was in between, chaos ruled on that day. Often, people would pull practical jokes on others as a result.
Jack-o'-Lanterns and the legend of "stingy jack"
People have been making jack-o'-lanterns at Halloween for centuries. 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 unsavoury 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."
Trick or treating?
The tradition of dressing in costume and begging for treats can be traced back to the Middle Ages. Children and sometimes poor adults would take advantage of the celebrations to go from door to door, asking for food or money in exchange for songs and prayers. The earliest known reference of "trick or treat" dates back to 1927.
Around 43 A.D., once the Romans had conquered Celtic territory, they took the festival of Samhain and combined it with two of their own festivals: Feralia, a day to remember the dead, and the festival of Pomona, a day to celebrate the goddess whose symbol was the apple. Fast forward a few thousand years, and now we're bobbing for them.
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