Ah, Halloween. With so many wonderful things to say on the subject, where should I start? The costumes? The traditions? The history? Heck, I could go on and on. But for the sake of time and attention span, let’s talk a little history.
Today, Halloween is a time to dress up in costumes, get drunk off candy, booze, or both, and pretend to be something we’re not. (Or is it to reveal what we really are?) Children are encouraged, on this one day a year, to run wild, go up to strangers, and ask for candy. On any other day this would be frowned upon, but what can I say? Halloween has a special way of bringing communities together.
As a matter of fact, Halloween has always been used as a way to bring communities together. In Ireland, the holiday’s birthplace, the magical holiday has been celebrated since the early eighth century. The Celtic winter officially started on November 1st, so order to welcome in the colder, more dangerous months, the Celts would hold a festival, Samhain (pronounced sow-in), on October 31st to celebrate the last of the harvest and warmth. Large bonfires were built in order to draw in the spirits of the dead that could walk the earth only on this sacred day. Seers and prophets would then attempt to communicate with the departed to try and predict if the village would make it though the harsh winter months. Villagers would gather around these fires to sacrifice animals and portions of their harvest to convince Death to take as little human life as possible. (1)
Later, the tradition of Halloween spread to Spain and Latin American colonies as Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. The festival begins at the stroke of midnight on October 31st, and lasts until November 2nd. Families often spend large amounts of money in order to celebrate the holiday and will decorate, feast, and prepare for the return of their deceased family members. It is believed that at the final stroke of midnight on the 31st children are allowed to descend from heaven to earth to be with their families once again for the festival. Deceased adults are allowed to join two days later, on the final day when families swarm to cemeteries to clean tombstones, decorate the grounds, and enjoy the reunion of their departed family members. Great feasts, which go uneaten by the living, are prepared for the dead in an exchange for protection and good fortune over those family members still dwelling in the land of the living. (2)
Although there are many other ways the holiday is celebrated throughout the world, and I would love to share that enticing slice of history with you, I thought I’d leave you, dear readers, with one last story that shows up in almost every Halloween celebration: the Jack o’ Lantern. Whether it’s a pumpkin, sugar skull, or the traditional turnip, this fun little Halloween artifact seems to show up everywhere. For years I thought that it was just a fun activity to do for children, but as I started researching my favorite holiday, I found out its true origin. Though there are many variations, the following is my favorite.
Once upon a time, long ago, there was a man named Jack who was rumored to be a rotten thief. Because of his evil ways, the Devil came to drag him to hell, where all thieves ultimately go. However, because Jack was so clever, he was able to convince the devil to climb a tree that Jack quickly burned crosses into, trapping the devil in its branches. It was then that Jack made a deal with the Devil that not only would he not die that day, but he would also never go to hell. In exchange for his soul’s freedom from damnation, Jack would chop the tree down and let the Devil free.
The deal was struck, and for the longest time Jack thought he had cheated ol’ Beelzebub. But, as all mortals do, Jack eventually did die. However, he could not go to heaven, for he was too despicable. And he could not go to hell, for the Devil had locked him out. Out of pity the Devil gave him a burning ember from the pits of hell. The mystical coal could never burn out, and would light the dark spirit world for Jack. To carry it, Jack hallowed out a turnip, his favorite food, and used it as a lantern. It was only until much later that pumpkins were substituted for the turnip. (3)
Now that you’ve had your history lesson, go have some fun! But remember, while the holiday is supposed to be a celebration, be careful, lest we forget that there are indeed some real goblins and ghouls out there. Follow the list below to make sure you have a safe and spooky night.
- Don’t let tricks be the reason you lose your treat. If you’re out having fun, watch your drink.
- Only allow your children to “Trick or Treat” at houses with the porch light on.
- If your children are old enough to go out alone, make sure they stick to well-lit streets, that they stay in a group, and have a cell phone in case of emergencies.
- Check all your Halloween goodies for any sign of foul play. If it looks tampered with, throw it away immediately.
Share with us! How do you celebrate Halloween in your family?
Cassidy Pittman was born in McConnellsburg, Pennsylvania, and has lived in various parts of the United States and China. She graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor’s in Literary Studies and Writing Skills in May of 2012. Cassidy has worked as a ghost writer and editor for international companies.