I was rummaging around in some old files on my computer and found this.
This was an article I wrote for a local newspaper in October 2006. It's hard to believe it was seven years ago, but I thought you all may like it too.
On October 31, beware of munchkin monsters, pint-size goblins and shrunken super heroes knocking on your door. Have you ever wondered where “trick or treat” came from?
It is this particular night that jack-o-lanterns light up dark paths and peek out of windows. How did that tradition start?
Have you ever been soaked bobbing for apples? Why do we put ourselves through that torture?
The origins of Halloween date back as early as the fifth century BC. The ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (sow-in) celebrated the end of summer and harvest and the beginning of the long, cold, dark winter.
The night before the festival, all the villagers extinguished their hearth fires, dressed up in costumes which consisted of animal skins and heads and paraded through their village in an effort to repel all the evil spirits.
The Celts believed that during this particular night the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead was bridged and ghosts of the dead returned to earth causing trouble.
A giant bonfire was built to keep away the evil spirits and to offer sacrifices to the Celtic deities. At the end of the celebration, all home hearth fires were rekindled from the sacred bonfire for protection during the winter.
Samhain was an important part of the Celtic beliefs and could not be changed by any other culture that conquered the region. Well, if you can’t beat them, join them.
After the Romans took control of Britain, they incorporated the Celtic Samhain festival with two of their own. On the last day of October, the festival of Feralia commemorated the passing of the dead.
The festival of Pomona was in honor of the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. Her sacred symbol was the apple. Part of the celebration was to grab hold of a dangling apple without using any hands, hence the origin of bobbing for apples.
Many years later the early Christians tried to replace pagan celebrations with religious alternatives. November 1 was chosen for All Saints Day to honor Christian saints and martyrs and to replace the Celtic/Roman celebration of the dead. The night before was called All Hallows Eve.
Since then other traditions have risen from the combination of ancient practices, religious intervention and folklore handed down from generation to generation.
Trick or Treat came from the Irish peasants collecting food in preparation for certain feasts. It evolved into the door to door begging for soul cakes to be used in exchange for promises of prosperity or protection against bad luck. Failure to supply soul cakes resulted in fairies being set loose to play tricks and harass the unlucky victims.
According to Irish folklore, a character by the name of Jack was a very bad person, always playing tricks and making trouble everywhere he went. He even tricked Satan into climbing a tree and by carving a cross in the bark trapped him there. Jack would not let the Devil back down until he promised never to tempt him again for the rest of his life.
When Jack died, he was not allowed in Heaven because of his evil ways. He was not allowed in Hell either because of the nasty trick he played on Satan. Instead, Satan gave Jack a single ember to light his way through the eternal darkness. The ember was placed inside a hollowed out turnip to make it glow longer. Jack now bore the name of “Jack of the lantern.”
When the Irish brought this tale to America in the 1800’s, the turnip was replaced with a pumpkin since pumpkins were more plentiful in this country. A crude face was carved in the pumpkin and the Jack-o-lantern was born.
Almost all of our holidays have origins dating back to ancient times. It is amazing how festivals and celebrations have evolved through the centuries and been modified to fit our changing times and lifestyles.
Today, Halloween is mainly a day for children, but we should not forget where it came from. The history is too fascinating.