With Halloween soon approaching, children are getting excited about all the holiday fun. Carving pumpkins, trick or treating, dressing up in costumes, and candy, candy, and more candy. No wonder kids love this time of year. But why do we celebrate a traditionally Celtic pagan holiday by doing these things?
Jack O’ Lanterns
The tradition of making Jack O’ Lanterns comes from Ireland. Originally, turnips, beets, or potatoes were carved, not pumpkins. Americans began to use pumpkins rather than the other vegetables because of their abundance. The tradition begins with a man named Stingy Jack, who made a deal with the devil. The story says that Jack invited the devil for a drink. He convinced the devil to change into a sixpence, but instead of paying for the drinks, Jack trapped him beside a silver cross.
Jack made the devil promise not to take his soul before he released him. When Jack died, he was not allowed into heaven because of his evil ways, and because of his deal with the devil, was turned away from hell as well. As Jack turned to leave into the dark, the devil threw him a coal which Jack put inside a carved turnip to light his way. In another version of the story, Jack tricked the devil into climbing a tree and trapped him by carving a cross in the tree. He was then denied access to hell because he had tricked the devil. The devil threw him a single ember to light his way in the dark.
Trick or Treating
The tradition of dressing up in costumes and asking for treats stems from a practice of the Middle Ages in 9th century Europe. In the medieval practice of souling, poor people would go door to door begging for food. In return, the beggars agreed to pray for their dead. This practice began in Britain and eventually children replaced the beggars. The children received soul cakes by going door to door. In Pioneer America, children would ensure receiving their treats by yelling “Trick or Treat”. Housewives were wise to provide the children with candy to guard themselves from being tricked.
The tradition of dressing up in costumes on Halloween night originated from an ancient tradition. People believed that on the night before All Saints Day, October 31, ghosts were freed to roam the earth. The people were afraid to leave their homes with the presence of the spirits. Therefore, any time anyone left their homes after dark, they would wear masks or some other form of ghoulish disguise to avoid being recognized by the earthly spirits. Their hope was that they would be mistaken by the spirits as fellow ghosts, thus receiving no harm.
Whatever the origins of these traditions, they provide for a good time to many children and adults as well this time of year, just as they have for many centuries.