Scaring ourselves silly

News Nov 22, 2006 Flamborough Review

What would Halloween be without jack-o-lanterns, witches, ghosts, black cats, children in costume and trick or treating? All are part and parcel of Halloween celebrations but many of us don't know their origin or reasons for being.

A quick check of Internet sites about Halloween lore offers some insight. But there's still a lot of mystery about Halloween and the activities associated with it. And who would want it any other way?

It's most commonly believed that Halloween is a pagan holiday, originally celebrated by the Druids as the end of summer or Samhain. October 31 is also believed to have been celebrated throughout the Celtic regions, including Great Britain and Ireland, as their New Year.

Some say that Halloween actually originated from the Catholic Church's holidays, All Hallow's Eve (meaning hallowed or holy) and All Saints Day. All Hallow's Eve, October 31, is the evening before All Saints Day, a time set aside to recognize all the saints who don't have a day of their own.

Regardless of its origin, Halloween has been with us for a long time. It wasn't widely celebrated in North America until the 1840s when rural immigrants flooded into Canada and the United States because of the Great Potato Famine. They brought their Halloween customs with them.

Today, Halloween is primarily a children's holiday. But many of the activities associated with it have early roots.

The jack-o-lantern comes from an 18th century Irish folk tale about a man named Jack who is said to have trapped the Devil in the branches of an apple tree. According to the tale, Jack was a very bad man. When he died, he was sent to hell but it's said the Devil rejected him and sent him back to earth. Jack had no place to go on Halloween night, so he walked the face of the earth endlessly with a jack-o-lantern that he made by hollowing out a turnip and placing a lit piece of coal inside to light his way.

Pumpkins were much more plentiful in North America and easier to carve so they became the gourd of choice for jack-o-lanterns which traditionally cover sidewalks and porches on Halloween.

Witches, black cats and ghosts are also part of Halloween lore. The medieval church was responsible for inventing witches and associating them as evil. One of the witches' most important Sabbaths was on Halloween. They were said to congregate, start a bonfire and have a feast on October 31.

The Celts believed the souls of friends and relatives who had died would return in animal form, often as black cats. Medieval Christians feared black cats, associating them with evil, largely because the cats were portrayed as constant companions of witches.

Dressing in costume on Halloween also has its origins in Celtic times. Legend says that on the Celts' New Year's Day, ghosts or disembodied spirits of the dead would come back and try to possess the bodies of the living. Not wanting to be possessed, the Celts would dress up in ghoulish costumes and parade noisily throughout town in hopes of scaring the spirits away.

The practice of trick-or-treating evolved later. There are at least two versions of its origin. According to one explanation, early Christians walked door to door on the day following All Saints Day and begged for pieces of currant bread called soul cakes. This practice later evolved into trick-or-treating.

Another story says that the practice comes from Ireland, where people of long ago believed in ghosts. Taking advantage of that belief, clever Irish farmers visited the homes of rich people and demanded food. If the rich neighbours didn't listen, the farmers would play tricks on them, such as pushing their wagons away or misplacing their belongings. The rich thought ghosts were playing these tricks and sought to ward them off by giving food to the poor farmers. That is how some people explain the custom of trick-or-treating.

Stories about the origin of this magical festival are rife, but many agree that modern-day Halloween is a holiday for children. It's fun to dress in costume and see witches, ghosts and jack-o-lanterns while going from house to house shouting "trick or treat."

It may be perpetuating Celtic customs but Halloween has gone way beyond that. It has become a celebration with a (supernatural) life of its own.

Scaring ourselves silly

News Nov 22, 2006 Flamborough Review

What would Halloween be without jack-o-lanterns, witches, ghosts, black cats, children in costume and trick or treating? All are part and parcel of Halloween celebrations but many of us don't know their origin or reasons for being.

A quick check of Internet sites about Halloween lore offers some insight. But there's still a lot of mystery about Halloween and the activities associated with it. And who would want it any other way?

It's most commonly believed that Halloween is a pagan holiday, originally celebrated by the Druids as the end of summer or Samhain. October 31 is also believed to have been celebrated throughout the Celtic regions, including Great Britain and Ireland, as their New Year.

Some say that Halloween actually originated from the Catholic Church's holidays, All Hallow's Eve (meaning hallowed or holy) and All Saints Day. All Hallow's Eve, October 31, is the evening before All Saints Day, a time set aside to recognize all the saints who don't have a day of their own.

Regardless of its origin, Halloween has been with us for a long time. It wasn't widely celebrated in North America until the 1840s when rural immigrants flooded into Canada and the United States because of the Great Potato Famine. They brought their Halloween customs with them.

Today, Halloween is primarily a children's holiday. But many of the activities associated with it have early roots.

The jack-o-lantern comes from an 18th century Irish folk tale about a man named Jack who is said to have trapped the Devil in the branches of an apple tree. According to the tale, Jack was a very bad man. When he died, he was sent to hell but it's said the Devil rejected him and sent him back to earth. Jack had no place to go on Halloween night, so he walked the face of the earth endlessly with a jack-o-lantern that he made by hollowing out a turnip and placing a lit piece of coal inside to light his way.

Pumpkins were much more plentiful in North America and easier to carve so they became the gourd of choice for jack-o-lanterns which traditionally cover sidewalks and porches on Halloween.

Witches, black cats and ghosts are also part of Halloween lore. The medieval church was responsible for inventing witches and associating them as evil. One of the witches' most important Sabbaths was on Halloween. They were said to congregate, start a bonfire and have a feast on October 31.

The Celts believed the souls of friends and relatives who had died would return in animal form, often as black cats. Medieval Christians feared black cats, associating them with evil, largely because the cats were portrayed as constant companions of witches.

Dressing in costume on Halloween also has its origins in Celtic times. Legend says that on the Celts' New Year's Day, ghosts or disembodied spirits of the dead would come back and try to possess the bodies of the living. Not wanting to be possessed, the Celts would dress up in ghoulish costumes and parade noisily throughout town in hopes of scaring the spirits away.

The practice of trick-or-treating evolved later. There are at least two versions of its origin. According to one explanation, early Christians walked door to door on the day following All Saints Day and begged for pieces of currant bread called soul cakes. This practice later evolved into trick-or-treating.

Another story says that the practice comes from Ireland, where people of long ago believed in ghosts. Taking advantage of that belief, clever Irish farmers visited the homes of rich people and demanded food. If the rich neighbours didn't listen, the farmers would play tricks on them, such as pushing their wagons away or misplacing their belongings. The rich thought ghosts were playing these tricks and sought to ward them off by giving food to the poor farmers. That is how some people explain the custom of trick-or-treating.

Stories about the origin of this magical festival are rife, but many agree that modern-day Halloween is a holiday for children. It's fun to dress in costume and see witches, ghosts and jack-o-lanterns while going from house to house shouting "trick or treat."

It may be perpetuating Celtic customs but Halloween has gone way beyond that. It has become a celebration with a (supernatural) life of its own.

Scaring ourselves silly

News Nov 22, 2006 Flamborough Review

What would Halloween be without jack-o-lanterns, witches, ghosts, black cats, children in costume and trick or treating? All are part and parcel of Halloween celebrations but many of us don't know their origin or reasons for being.

A quick check of Internet sites about Halloween lore offers some insight. But there's still a lot of mystery about Halloween and the activities associated with it. And who would want it any other way?

It's most commonly believed that Halloween is a pagan holiday, originally celebrated by the Druids as the end of summer or Samhain. October 31 is also believed to have been celebrated throughout the Celtic regions, including Great Britain and Ireland, as their New Year.

Some say that Halloween actually originated from the Catholic Church's holidays, All Hallow's Eve (meaning hallowed or holy) and All Saints Day. All Hallow's Eve, October 31, is the evening before All Saints Day, a time set aside to recognize all the saints who don't have a day of their own.

Regardless of its origin, Halloween has been with us for a long time. It wasn't widely celebrated in North America until the 1840s when rural immigrants flooded into Canada and the United States because of the Great Potato Famine. They brought their Halloween customs with them.

Today, Halloween is primarily a children's holiday. But many of the activities associated with it have early roots.

The jack-o-lantern comes from an 18th century Irish folk tale about a man named Jack who is said to have trapped the Devil in the branches of an apple tree. According to the tale, Jack was a very bad man. When he died, he was sent to hell but it's said the Devil rejected him and sent him back to earth. Jack had no place to go on Halloween night, so he walked the face of the earth endlessly with a jack-o-lantern that he made by hollowing out a turnip and placing a lit piece of coal inside to light his way.

Pumpkins were much more plentiful in North America and easier to carve so they became the gourd of choice for jack-o-lanterns which traditionally cover sidewalks and porches on Halloween.

Witches, black cats and ghosts are also part of Halloween lore. The medieval church was responsible for inventing witches and associating them as evil. One of the witches' most important Sabbaths was on Halloween. They were said to congregate, start a bonfire and have a feast on October 31.

The Celts believed the souls of friends and relatives who had died would return in animal form, often as black cats. Medieval Christians feared black cats, associating them with evil, largely because the cats were portrayed as constant companions of witches.

Dressing in costume on Halloween also has its origins in Celtic times. Legend says that on the Celts' New Year's Day, ghosts or disembodied spirits of the dead would come back and try to possess the bodies of the living. Not wanting to be possessed, the Celts would dress up in ghoulish costumes and parade noisily throughout town in hopes of scaring the spirits away.

The practice of trick-or-treating evolved later. There are at least two versions of its origin. According to one explanation, early Christians walked door to door on the day following All Saints Day and begged for pieces of currant bread called soul cakes. This practice later evolved into trick-or-treating.

Another story says that the practice comes from Ireland, where people of long ago believed in ghosts. Taking advantage of that belief, clever Irish farmers visited the homes of rich people and demanded food. If the rich neighbours didn't listen, the farmers would play tricks on them, such as pushing their wagons away or misplacing their belongings. The rich thought ghosts were playing these tricks and sought to ward them off by giving food to the poor farmers. That is how some people explain the custom of trick-or-treating.

Stories about the origin of this magical festival are rife, but many agree that modern-day Halloween is a holiday for children. It's fun to dress in costume and see witches, ghosts and jack-o-lanterns while going from house to house shouting "trick or treat."

It may be perpetuating Celtic customs but Halloween has gone way beyond that. It has become a celebration with a (supernatural) life of its own.