Halloween History

October is officially upon us, and with it comes the title of “spooky season.”  Halloween hosts many ghouls, witches, monsters, and creatures, spooking children and adults alike.  The myths, legends, and wives’ tales of Halloween range from what could be true, to funny stories for a laugh.  But how exactly did Halloween start?

Carving creepy faces on a pumpkin is a fun tradition, but it originally came from Irish legend, and the funny part is that they didn’t even carve pumpkins!  Irish people actually carved terrifying faces in turnips, and brought the tradition over when they immigrated to America.  The Irish carved turnips to ward off a figure known as “Stingy Jack,” a mythical figure who was known for his unsavory acts.  It is said he tricked the devil on two separate occasions.  Since he was an unsavory character, God would not allow Jack into Heaven, and the Devil kept his word of not claiming Jack’s soul when he died, so Jack instead only had a coal to light his way, which he placed into a carved-out turnip.  Jack eventually took the name “Jack O’Lantern” to represent his dilemma.  When Irish and Scottish natives eventually moved to America, they found that pumpkins made perfect Jack-O’-Lanterns.

Witches are a symbol of Halloween, typically being evil, unsightly women.  The myth of witches also started with the Irish.  The Irish Celtics (Druids)  believed that were witches helpful by providing the Druid people with medicine and wisdom.  After the Roman empire took over, the Druids were forced to convert to the Catholic belief, and eventually they merged religions.  The witches they had once sought knowledge and help from were  turned into satanist women.  These women were believed to turn into cats, bats, and spiders, enhancing their connections to the Halloween tradition.  America eventually accused many women of witchcraft and sentenced them to death during the Salem Witch Trials in Oregon.  

Wearing costumes is something many enjoy during Halloween, which again was brought over from Ireland.  The festival of Samhain signified the start of winter, which was associated with death and a celebration for the end of harvest season.  The Celtic people believed the veil between the human world and the world of the dead was the thinnest at this point. The festival was used to ward off ghosts by lighting bonfires and dressing up in costumes.

“Trick-or-Treating” is another tradition brought from Ireland but was appreciated in Scotland as well.  People would dress up in costumes for “guising” and would accept gifts from other houses.  The people would tell a joke, read a poem, or do another “trick” before accepting their “treat.”  The mix of beliefs made by the integration of Christianity into Celtic lands also played a part in the tradition.  People in poverty would visit the wealthier houses and would get soul cakes in return for praying for the people of the house.  

Although there are many other components of Halloween, these are the few most common.  These Halloween traditions came mostly from Irish backgrounds, with hints of old Celtic traditions and influence from the Scottish.  Though Halloween is still a few weeks away, practice these traditions by stocking up on candy, carving pumpkins, and picking out your costumes.


Pumpkin Carving




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