By: Jenna Maxwell
Halloween is the second most popular holiday celebrated in the United States, coming in only behind Christmas when it comes to commercial success. With so much fun and hoopla surrounding this beloved autumnal celebration, we thought you might want to know some of the fun facts and bits of trivia that surround the traditions we embrace so lovingly at this time of the year. Halloween is steeped in folklore that is based on ancient rituals, festivals and history. Knowing a little bit about where your favorite Halloween customs came from can only make your Halloween celebrating that much more fun!
Halloween: Halloween evolved from the ancient festival called Samhain. Samhain was a traditional "end of the harvest" celebration with a unique twist. During Samhain, the very superstitious folks of ancient yesteryear actually believed that the spirits of the dead would come out on this one night in order to roam the earth!
Carved Pumpkins: The very first Jack-o-Lanterns were actually made out of turnips. A turnip was hollowed out so that it could hold a burning ember, which would then serve as a rudimentary light source. Oftentimes, a scary face was carved into the turnip as well. These lanterns were not only used to light one's way during the Samhain celebration but were also thought to be a deterrent (thus the carved scary faces) that would ward off any potentially evil spirits that may be lurking about.
Trick or Treating: Trick or Treating has its roots in a couple of very old traditions. First of all, during the festival of Samhain, it was customary to set out tables of food or "treats" in order to appease the spirits of the dead that were thought to be around during this time. Later on in Europe, a practice known as "souling" became common practice. Very poor folks would knock on the doors of the wealthy and offer prayers for their dead the night before "All Saints Day" (November 1st). In exchange for these prayers, the poor folks were offered soul cakes, which are pastries made from bread and currants.
Jack-O-Lantern: The legend of the Jack-o-Lantern has many variations to it but all seem to have one basic common component-a legendary fellow named Jack. A long time ago, there was a miserly, cantankerous old man named Jack. Jack was a gruff, ill-tempered drunk that loved to play rude pranks on his fellow villagers. One day, Jack was bold enough to play a prank on the devil himself, in which Jack tricked Satan to climb to the very top of a large tree. Jack placed religious symbols around the tree, thus entrapping the devil at the top. In order to give the devil his passage out of the tree, Jack insisted that the devil promise to never take his soul. The devil agreed. When Jack died, however, he was considered far too evil to go to heaven, but the devil was true to his promise and did not take Jack's soul into hell. Jack was thus forced to roam the earth for eternity. The devil did, however, toss Jack a burning cinder to help him to light his way as he roamed for eternity on his endless journey. Jack tucked the burning ember into a hollowed out turnip and thus in this moment, the original "Jack-O-Lantern" was born!
Halloween Costumes: The tradition of dressing up in Halloween costumes also goes back to the festival of Samhain. The people who lived during these ancient days were so frightened at the possibility of coming into contact with an evil spirit that might be about that they would do just about anything to prevent this from occurring. Dressing up as a ghoul or something very frightening was a type of disguise tactic that was commonly used during Samhain. It was thought that if an evil spirit saw a person dressed up as a spook, they would be passed by and ignored, hopefully thought to be just another one of the "dead".
The Colors Black and Orange: Black has always been the color associated with death and darkness, while orange has always been the color most associated with the harvest, thus a holiday that has its origins in honoring the dead and the ending of the harvest season would naturally be associated these two colors.
Although our modern Halloween celebrations have come a long way from the ancient rituals that were part of yesteryear, still most of our Halloween traditions have their basic roots deep in history. The next time you carve a pumpkin, dress up in a Halloween costume or go out trick or treating, you can think back to those superstitious folks long ago who paved the way for what has to be one of the most fun and exciting holidays of the entire year! Happy Halloween!
HALLOWEEN NEW ENGLAND The Best Guide to New England Haunted Houses and Trails, Ghost Tours, Haunted and Night Hayrides, Haunted and Night Corn Mazes, Salem Attractions, Costume Stores, Pumpkin Patches and Halloween Events!© 2014 Halloween New England. All rights reserved.