one of the world's oldest
holidays, is still celebrated today in several countries around the globe. The
autumn rite is commemorated in the United Kingdom, although with a surprising
and distinctive British twist. In Mexico, Latin America, and Spain, All Souls'
Day, the third day of the three-day Hallowmas observance, is the most important
part of the celebration for many people. In Ireland and Canada, Halloween,
which was once a frightening and superstitious time of year, is celebrated much
as it is in the United States, with trick-or-treating, costume parties,
and fun for all ages.
word itself, "Halloween," actually has its origins in the Catholic Church.
It comes from a contracted corruption of All Hallows Eve. November 1, "All
Hollows Day" (or "All Saints Day"), is a Catholic day of observance in honor
of saints. But, in the 5th century BC, in Celtic Ireland, summer officially
ended on October 31. The holiday was called Samhain (pronounced sow-in), which
means "end of summer", the Celtic New year.
Trick for Treat
The custom of trick or treating probably
has several origins. During Samhain, the Druids believed that the dead would
play tricks on mankind and cause panic and destruction. They had to be appeased,
so country folk would give the Druids food as they visited their homes.
Irish peasant practice called for going door to door to collect money, breadcake,
cheese, eggs, butter, apples, etc., in preparation for the festival of
St. Columb Kill.
Also a ninth-century European custom called souling. On
November 2, All Souls Day, early Christians would walk from village to village
begging for "soul cakes" made out of square pieces of bread with currants.
The more soul cakes the beggars would receive, the more prayers they would
promise to say on behalf of the dead relatives of the donors. At the time,
it was believed that the dead remained in limbo for a time after death, and
that prayer, even by strangers, could expedite a soul's passage to heaven.
Did You Know...
Bobbing for Apples:
- A traditional food eaten on Halloween is barnbrack, a kind of fruitcake that
can be bought in stores or baked at home. A muslin-wrapped treat is baked
inside the cake that, it is said, can foretell the eater's future. If a ring is found,
it means that the person will soon be wed; a piece of straw means that a
prosperous year is on its way.
When the Celts were
absorbed by the Roman Empire, many rituals of Roman origin began. Among them
was the worship of Pomona, goddess of the harvest, often portrayed sitting on
a basket of fruits and flowers. Apples were the sacred fruit of the goddess,
and many games of divination involving them entered the Samhain customs.
The Witch's Broomstick:
The witch is a central symbol of Halloween.
The name comes from the Saxon wica, meaning wise one. When setting out for a
Sabbath, witches rubbed a sacred ointment onto their skin. This gave them a
feeling of flying, and if they had been fasting they felt even giddier. Some
witches rode on horseback, but poor witches went on foot and carried a broom
or a pole to aid in vaulting over streams. In England when new witches were
initiated they were often blindfolded, smeared with flying ointment and placed
on a broomstick. The ointment would confuse the mind, speed up the pulse and
numb the feet. When they were told "You are flying over land and sea," the
witch took their word for it.
Irish children used to
carve out potatoes or turnips and light them for their Halloween gatherings.
They commemorated Jack, a shifty Irish villain so wicked that neither God
nor the Devil wanted him. Rejected by both the sacred and profane, he wandered
the world endlessly looking for a place to rest, his only warmth a glittering
candle in a rotten turnip. Read about Jack in the
'Legend of the Jack-O-Lantern' short story.
Did You Know...
Halloween Masquerade Mask:
- The Irish Potato Famine (1845-50) prompted over 700,000 people to immigrate
to the Americas. These immigrants brought with them their traditions of Halloween
and Jack o'Lanterns, but turnips were not as readily available as back home. They
found the American pumpkin to be a more than an adequate replacement. Today,
the carved pumpkin is perhaps the most famous icon of the holiday.
From earliest times people wore masks when
droughts or other disasters struck. They believed that the demons who had
brought their misfortune upon them would become frightened off by the hideous
masks. Even after the festival of Samhain had merged with Halloween, Europeans
felt uneasy at this time of the year. Food was stored in preparation for the
winter and the house was snug and warm. The cold, envious ghosts were outside,
and people who went out after dark often wore masks to keep from being
- In 1584, after French explorer Jacques Cartier explored the St. Lawrence
region of North America, he reported finding "gros melons." The name was
translated into English as "pompions," which has since evolved into the
- Pumpkins have been grown in North America for five thousand years. They are
indigenous to the western hemisphere.
- Pumpkins are fruits. A pumpkin is a type of squash and is a member of the
gourd family (Cucurbitacae), which include squash, cucumbers, gherkins, and melons.
- Pumpkin seeds should be planted between the last week of May and the middle
of June. They take between 90 and 120 days to grow and are picked in October
when they are bright orange in color. Their seeds can be saved to grow new
pumpkins the next year.
- 2012 New World Record! In what has become an annual event,
the world record has fallen once more. The largest pumpkin ever grown stands at
2,009 pounds. It was grown by Ron Wallace, from Greene, Rhode Island. It was weighed at
the Topsfield Fair in Topsfield, MA, USA on September 28, 2012 and is the first
ever one ton pumpkin! Will the record fall again? I will let you know!