Origins of Halloween

2015-10-28 06:00
  Images of carved pumpkins, with a candle inside, are very much part of the celebrations.

Images of carved pumpkins, with a candle inside, are very much part of the celebrations.

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IN ancient times Halloween, known as Samhain, a festival was held when the Celts celebrated the new year on 1 November to mark the end of summer and the beginning of the dark, cold winter. They believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred and the ghosts of the dead returned to Earth.

As the influence of Christianity spread, 2 November was declared to be All Soul’s Day to honour the dead. Also called All Hallows – the night before became known as All Hallows Eve and eventually Halloween,

Moving forward Halloween is probably more popular in America than elsewhere as a result of the influx of Irish fleeing the potato famine of 1846. The first celebrations included events held to celebrate the harvest, when neighbours would share stories of the dead, tell each other’s fortunes and dance and sing.

The tradition of “trick or treating” probably dates back to the early All Souls’ Day parades in England when the poor would beg for food and be given “soul cakes” in exchange for praying for the giver’s dead family members. The tradition of dressing up on Halloween was to confuse any ghosts who might be around that night – so to avoid being accosted when they went out onto the streets after dark and people wore masks so the ghosts would think they were fellow spirits.

Some of the ancient traditions have fallen by the wayside such as a lady might bury a ring in mashed potatoes on Halloween nigh, hoping to bring true love to the diner who found it.

Images of carved pumpkins, with a candle inside, are very much part of the celebrations. These, known as “jack-o-lanterns”, originated in Ireland with turnips instead of pumpkins. This tradition is based on a legend about a man name Stingy Jack who repeatedly trapped the devil and only let him go on condition that Jack would never go to hell. However, when he died Jack learnt 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. His old friend, the devil, gave Jack a lump of burning coal, which he carried around in a carved-out turnip to light his way.

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