The Origins of Halloween
Have you ever wondered why we celebrate the traditions we do at Halloween? Why we wear costumes and carve jack-o-lanterns? It all originated from the pagan Celtic traditions of Samhain.
Pronounced “sow-win”, this celebration marked the time of year in the Celtic calendar where the Celts celebrated the upcoming harvest and the end of summer. According to History.com, it was believed to be the time of the year where the supernatural roamed the earth, where the spirit world and the human world united.
So, what traditions do we still celebrate today that originate from Samhain?
Halloween costumes are great fun for everyone each year. Some even plan months in advance for preparation. Originally, costumes were used by the Ancient Celts to ward off evil; they were usually dressed in animal skins, and bonfires were usually held in celebration for the winter ahead.
In North America, this and other Halloween traditions weren’t widely celebrated until the influx of Irish immigrants due to the potato famine in the 19th-century.
Pumpkin carving comes from the Irish myth of “Stingy Jack”. The story traveled with its creators across the pond when many Irish families sought refuge in America from the previously mentioned potato famine.
Stingy Jack was believed to be a trickster who had invited the Devil to have a drink with him. Jack, not wanting to pay for his drink, asked the Devil to turn into a coin so he’d be able to pay for the drinks that way. When the Devil did this, Jack kept the coin in his pocket next to a silver cross so that the Devil would stay in coin form.
Jack then made a deal with the Devil that he would let him out under two conditions: one, that the Devil wouldn’t bother Jack for one whole year and two, that when Jack died, the Devil would not come after his soul. The Devil promised this and then transformed back to his usual identity.
It wasn’t until a year later that the Devil returned and Jack tricked him into climbing a tree. Stingy Jack then carved a cross in the trunk so the Devil couldn’t climb down. He made the Devil promise that he wouldn’t see him for another ten years.
Jack died soon after and wasn’t allowed into heaven for being such a trickster. The Devil kept his promise and never came for Jack when he died. Instead, he gave Jack a flaming piece of coal to wander all eternity with.
In the spirit of this myth, the Irish would carve out turnips or potatoes and light them to scare Jack and other unsavoury spirits to keep them away from their homes. When the myth made its way to America, it changed to pumpkins and that is why we make jack-o-lanterns each year.
Trick or Treating
During Samhain, the Celts believed that the barrier between the human world and the spirit world was easily breached, meaning it wouldn’t be hard for evil beings to be found among the living. History.com makes mention of the fact that the ancient Celts would leave food and offerings outside of their villages for the mischievous fairies, in order to keep them at bay. Maybe monsters and other evil entities coming to your door asking for treats sounds familiar?
A Brief History of Halloween
There you have it, just a few of the many traditions from our ancestors that we as a society still celebrate today. Did the history of Halloween change your view of how you celebrate at all? Let me know in the comments!