To the Pagan Celts this festival day is called Samhain. It’s the celebration of the third and final harvest, a time of reflection and when the boundaries between the living and the dead are the thinnest. Please refer to Halloween: Pagan Celebration for more information. Most Hallowe’en traditions are rooted in this Olde Religion’s practices and legends.
These American legends are based on Jack-o-Lantern Irish lore.
In Ireland’s tradition, Jack was doomed to wander about the earth because he was denied entrance to both Heaven and Hell. Samhain Traditions and Lore detail this legend.
According to one Americanized version, Jack sold his soul to the devil on midnight at a crossroads. The pact was that he would have seven years to live as he wanted before the devil claimed his soul.
When the devil came for Jack’s soul, the man asked him to retrieve a shoe he had fastened to a wall. While the devil obliged, Jack nailed him to the wall. He made the devil promise that he would never bother him again before he freed him.
When he died, Jack was denied entrance to Heaven because of his wicked ways and to Hell due to the pact he made with the devil. He was doomed to wander on earth eternally. The devil, after denying Jack entrance to his domain, threw him some fire. Jack’s only diversion was to be enticing people into bogs and swamps at night.
According to Black ethnic lore in the 1800s, Grandpappy got lost in the woods. He saw a light and began to walk towards it, but became lost. He angrily concluded that he was fooled by a jack-ma-lantern. Grandpappy drew a circle on the path, etched a cross into the ground, turned his pockets inside out and prayed to expel witches and their jack-ma-lanterns.
Corn is one of the traditional foods and decorations for the Pagan celebration of Samhain. Enterprising Americans made orange, yellow and white candy in the shape of a corn kernel. In the 1880s, the Philadelphia based Wunderle Candy Factory was the first to commercially produce these Hallowe’en treats.
According to Celtic belief, on Samhain, spirits of the dead roamed on earth.
Cats, because they were considered a witch’s familiar, an allied spirit in feline form, became associated with Hallowe’en, along with pumpkins and ghosts.
Just Born Candy Factory, a family owned company based in Bethlehem, PA, makes marshmallow treats for different holidays. The marshmallow-based candies are, collectively, called PEEPS®.
At Hallowe’en time, Trick or Treaters might be delighted to receive PEEPS® bounty in the forms of ghosts, pumpkins or cats.
Some Regional Traditions
By the turn of the 20th century, different parts of the United States had their own customs and, later, one legendary ghost!
People in Louisiana feasted on what they called a “dumb supper” at midnight, while watching for a ghost to appear. This wasn’t a foolishly put together meal. It was a silent one.
Residents of New Hampshire held barn dances.
New Yorkers, in the city, had parades and fireworks.
In the mountainous regions of North Carolina, it was whispered that people would hear words of the future spoken softly in the wind.
There is a legend that the ghost of movie star Humphrey Bogart visits New York every October 31st to warn people not to stay in California too long.