“When witches go riding, and black cats are seen, the moon laughs and whispers ’tis near Halloween!!”
Halloween is the season for little ghosts and goblins to take to the streets, asking for candy and scaring one another. Spooky stories are told around fires, scary movies appear in theatres, pumpkins are expertly (and not-so-expertly) carved into jack-o’-lanterns, Halloween costume parties are hosted and candles are lighted on the grave of the dead. In many parts of the world, the Christian religious observances of All Hallows’ Eve, including attending church services and lighting candles on the graves of the dead, remain popular although elsewhere it is a more commercial and secular celebration. Some Christians historically abstained from meat on All Hallows’ Eve, a tradition reflected in the eating of certain vegetarian foods on this vigil day, including apples, potato pancakes, and cakes.
Here are some spooky and interesting facts about Halloween:
The origin of Jack-o-lanterns
Jack-o-lanterns originated in Ireland with turnips instead of pumpkins. It based on a legend about a man named Stingy Jack who repeatedly trapped the Devil and only let him go on the condition that Jack would never go to Hell. However, when he died Jack learned that Heaven didn’t really want his soul either after all his devilish dealings, so he was condemned to wander the earth as a ghost for all eternity. His old friend, the Devil, gifted Jack a lump of burning coal, which Jack carried around in a carved-out turnip to light his way. Hence Locals began carving frightening faces into their own gourds to scare off evil spirits such as Jack of the Lantern.
The linking of black cats and spookiness dates back to the Middle Ages when these dark kitties were considered a symbol of the Devil. It didn’t help their reputations when, centuries later, accused witches were often found to have cats, especially black ones, as companions. People started believing that the cats were a witch’s companion—animals that gave them an assist with their dark magic and the two have been linked ever since.
Bobbing of Apples
This game traces its origins to a courting ritual that was part of a Roman festival honouring Pomona, the goddess of agriculture and abundance. Multiple variations existed, but the basic gist was that young men and women would be able to foretell their future relationships based on the game.
Some sources argue that the modern trick-or-treating derives from belsnickling, a tradition in German-American communities where children would dress in costume and then call on their neighbours to see if the adults could guess the identities of the disguised guests. In one version of the practice, the children were re rewarded with food or other treats if no one could identify them.
Candles and Bonfires
These days, candles are more likely towering than traditional bonfires, but for much of the early history of Halloween, open flames were integral in lighting the way for souls seeking the afterlife.
Celtic people believed that during the festival Samhain, which marked the transition to the new year at the end of the harvest and beginning of the winter, spirits walked the Earth. Later, the introduction of All Souls Day on November 2 by Christian missionaries perpetuated the idea of a mingling between the living and the dead around that time.
With all these ghosts wandering around the Earth during Samhain, the Celts had to get creative to avoid being terrorized by evil spirits. To fake out the ghosts, people would don disguises so they would be mistaken for spirits themselves and left alone.
Black and Orange
The classic Halloween colours can also trace their origins back to the Celtic festival Samhain. Black represented the “death” of summer while orange is emblematic of the autumn harvest season.
As a phenomenon that often varies by region, the pre-Halloween tradition, also known as “Devil’s Night”, is credited with a different origin depending on whom you ask. Some sources say that pranks were originally part of May Day Celebrations. But Samhain, and eventually All Souls Day, always seem to have included good-natured mischief. When Scottish and Irish immigrants came to America, they brought along the tradition of celebrating Mischief Night as part of Halloween, which was great for candy-fueled pranksters.
It’s likely that bats were present at the earliest celebrations of proto-Halloween, not just symbolically but literally. As part of Samhain, the Celts lit large bonfires, which attracted insects. The insects, in turn, attracted bats, which soon became associated with the festival. Medieval folklore expanded upon the spooky connotation of bats with a number of superstitions built around the idea that bats were the harbingers of death.