Holy Batwings – wait until you get a load of the ginormous, Mother of All Halloween Playlists at the bottom! Go, click play, THEN come back and start reading Starr’s eerie History of Halloween. I’ll be having nightmares about Stingy Jack now, dammit…
Greetings, Dark Children. (Did that sound gothy enough?)
It is I, the Starry one with your Halloween history! I love Halloween. It’s the one day of the year when everyone else embraces the dark side that I adore 365 days a year. Growing up I was always inclined to the dark black velvet side of life. With Vampires and Byron and spooky castles and tormented hero’s. Did I mention the vampires? So for me, Halloween was the one day of the year where I got to drag everyone else along on my midnight black choo choo train. Plus…hello, candy!
But Halloween is actually a much older and deeper holiday than one might guess from it’s costumes and Mini Snickers modern version. Let’s step back in time a bit and talk about the real origins and meanings of This Most Spookiest of Days.
Halloween’s origins can be found in the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). And yes the correct pronunciations totally ruins my post title but hey 😛
Celtic New Year began on November 1st. The marked the end of Summer and it’s subsequent harvest and the beginning of winter, with it’s darkness and the cold. Winter was the seasonal representation of death. The Celts believed in a veil between the world of the living and the dead. And on the night before their New Year, October 31st, they believed the veil weakened, allowing the dead to return to visit the living.
They put up with spirit mischief in the hopes their Druids would be able to better predict the future with the aid of the spirits of the dead. Many of our classic Halloween traditions can be traced back, again, to the land of the Celts. Them Druids were creative. They would celebrate the ceremonies with bonfires and costumes. Sounds a bit familiar, no? Most amusing to think we have come full circle and dressing up for Halloween as a druid is now an option!
Time passed and much like everyone else the Celts were conquered by the Romans and eventually two Roman celebrations were married with Samhain. Feralia was an October celebration of the passing of the dead. The other festival, Pomona, celebrated the fruits of the harvest. The symbol Pomona was an apple. A forerunner to playing bobbing for apples? Quite likely!
By the 800s, the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands. In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 All Saints’ Day, a time to honor saints and martyrs. The Church co-opted many Pagan holidays in this manner in an attempt to bring people into the fold. The celebration was also called All-Hallows or All-Hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints’ Day) and the night before it, the night of Samhain, began to be called All-Hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween.
Returning to the cradle of the Celts, the UK, we also find the roots to some of the most classic of Halloween traditions. Take for example, The Jack O’Lantern. The practice originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed “Stingy Jack.”
According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul. The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree’s bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years.
Soon after, Jack died. As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell. He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as “Jack of the Lantern,” and then, simply “Jack O’Lantern.”
In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack’s lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits. In England, large beets are used. Immigrants from these countries brought the jack o’lantern tradition with them when they came to the United States. They soon found that pumpkins, a fruit native to America, make perfect Jack O’Lanterns.
The practice of trick or treating resembles yet another medieval All Saints practice called “souling.” The poor would make the round and knock on doors to beg for food or money on Hallomass in return for praying for the dead on All Souls Day. The ultimate trick or treat.
With it’s origins in Celtic tradition, Halloween is not celebrated around the world in quite the same ways. Countries with a rich Celtic history such as Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, France, and some areas of Italy, carry on traditional Halloween/Samhain celebrations to this day. America being founded by the English also celebrates the holiday although in the States it is largely secular with more thought given to costumes and candy than the honoring of the dead or recognition of the earth’s cycles.
Mexico and many Latin American countries being largely Catholic influenced, celebrates a three day festival and have started to incorporate the American traditions along with their own Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead. Skull shaped candies and ornaments are used on altars along with Marigolds, renamed “Flor de Muerto” or flowers of the dead, as they are thought to attract the souls of dead family members. In much the same way as the Pagan festivals were rolled into a Christian celebration, The Day of the Dead incorporated a pre-Hispanic Indian festival honoring the dead that was held during the month of August.
Given the roots of this holiday in the realm of the dead it is no wonder that so much of our culture and traditions have drawn from the well that is All Hallows Eve. Life, death, ghosts, wandering devil tricksters, costumes and candy make for a heady treat!
Please enjoy your pre-made HUGE party playlist. We have done the work for you this year and I guarantee that there is something for everyone on this list. Check back tomorrow on the Big Day as Belle and I pull out 10 songs each from this list and give you a bit more background on them!