Looking out the window on October 31st can make for a very intriguing evening. In a few hours time a person may see monsters, animals, princesses, and other creative costumes wandering down the street from house to house carrying bags bulging with candy. Generally speaking, Americans are huge fans of the idea of taking an evening to dress up, to parade around the town receiving candy, or even going to a parade where all participants are dressed in fun or scary costumes. The interesting concept of the matter is that many are not aware of why we practice Halloween or how the holiday came to be.
The word Halloween is from the the Scottish phrase "All Hallow's Eve," but the traditions of Halloween originated in the European area from the Celtic people. They had a tradition called Samhain which took place at the end of the summer or harvest, and the beginning of the cold, dark, winter months. On Samhain, the people would have a festival where they would have bonfires, slaughter their animals, and feast with each other. The people believed that this night was the optimal time for the spirits of the deceased to return to the Earth since this was the night that all those who died throughout the year crossed over. In an attempt to appease the spirits, the people would leave out sweet treats for them. Another tradition that developed to prevent the spirits from wreaking havoc was to wear scary costumes such as monsters or ghouls.
Over time, America and other countries have developed traditions such as trick-or-treating. In previous centuries, the practice was sometimes referred to as souling, and featured pagans begging for food in exchange for prayers for the dead. Another form of trick-or-treating often included traveling from home to home pretending to be the spirits and demanding sweets. Fortunately, the times have changed into simply a fun night for kids to show off costumes and receive treats.
Another fun activity many partake in is the carving of pumpkins into Jack o’lanterns. This originated from a myth with many varieties about a farmer named Jack who tricked the devil and trapped him with a cross. The devil then promised Jack he would never take his soul, and Jack was left to roam the Earth. The devil gave him a burning ember which Jack put into a lantern he carved from a turnip, and he was
known as Jack of the Lantern. Ever since then, carving lanterns out of vegetables has become a tradition common to many households around the world.
Similar to aforementioned rituals, bobbing for apples originated from the practices of these early people. The Roman Goddess Pomona was the goddess of fruit and trees and the Romans would celebrate her by offering fruits and other foods around the time of Samhain. Many in early times believed the apple in particular to be a symbol of fertility, and would sometimes even bob for apples to determine future spouses.
The next time you see trick-or-treaters traveling around your neighborhood, think back to the early Celtics and say a thank you to them for starting a tradition to last a lifetime.
by Chloe Carson
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