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October 20, 2015

The History of Halloween Will Surprise You

IRELAND & THE ORIGIN OF HALLOWEEN

The origins of Halloween emanate from the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. Two thousand years ago, the Celts celebrated their new year on November 1st. The day marked the end of summer harvest and beginning of the cold, dark winter. The classic Halloween colors of black and orange represented the “death” of summer while orange is emblematic of the autumn harvest season.

Celts believed that on the eve of the new year, October 31st, the barrier between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred and ghosts would return to Earth. The pagan rituals of Samhain sparked many of the Halloween traditions that we still carry on in the US today.

JACK O’LANTERNS AND THE LEGEND OF “STINGY JACK”

There’s an Irish myth about a man nicknamed “Stingy Jack.” Stingy Jack was a miserable old man who played multiple tricks on the Devil. As the legend goes, Stingy Jack was having a drink with the Devil but was too stingy to buy for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to pay. The Devil complied but instead of paying, Jack put the coin in his pocket next to a silver cross to prevent the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack agreed to free the Devil under the conditions that he would not bother Jack for one year and if Jack died, the Devil would not claim his soul. The next year, Jack fooled the Devil into climbing a tree to pick a piece of fruit, then carved a sign of the cross into the tree so he couldn’t come down until he agreed to not bother Jack for ten more years.

Soon after, Jack died. God would not let the devious man into heaven and the Devil, keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell. He sent Jack 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 it ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as “Jack of the Lantern,” and then, simply “Jack O’Lantern.”

TRICK OR TREAT?

Trick or treating is another tradition, with many believing that its roots stem from the Celtic festival of Samhain. When the barrier of the worlds of the living and the dead were blurred, young men would dress up impersonating evil spirits. They believed that by dressing up as evil spirits, they would fool actual evil spirits into thinking they were one of them, thus leaving them alone. To further deter the evil spirits, they would leave out food and drinks to satisfy them. Eventually, the Celts began to use their costumes to their advantage to accept the food and drinks left out for spirits.

Today in Ireland, the October Bank Holiday, also known as the Halloween Holiday, is a national holiday celebrated on the last Monday in October.

 


References
History. History of the Jack O’Lantern. http://www.history.com/topics/halloween/jack-olantern-history
History. History of Trick-or-Treating. http://www.history.com/topics/halloween/history-of-trick-or-treating

 

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