The History of Halloween
Halloween has its ultimate origins in the ancient Celtic harvest festival, SAMHAIN, a time when people believed that the spirits of the dead roamed the earth. Irish settlers brought their Halloween customs—which included bobbing for apples and lighting jack-o’-lanterns—to America in the 1840s.
In the United States children go from house to house in costume— often dressed as ghosts, skeletons, or vampires—on Halloween saying, “Trick or treat!” Though for the most part the threat is in jest, the “trick” part of the children’s cry carries the implication that if they don’t receive a treat, the children will subject that house to some kind of prank, such as marking its windows with a bar of soap or throwing eggs at it. Most receive treats in the form of candy or money. But Halloween parties and parades are popular with adults as well. Because nuts were a favorite means of foretelling the future on this night, All Hallows’ Eve in England became known as Nutcrack Night. Other British names for the day include Bob Apple Night, Duck (or Dookie) Apple Night, Crab Apple Night, Thump-the-door Night, and, in Wales, APPLE AND CANDLE NIGHT. In the United States it is sometimes referred to as Trick or Treat Night.
Halloween in Ireland
In Ireland, HALLOWEEN is observed with traditional foods and customs that are largely based on superstitions or folk beliefs. One of the dishes served is known as colcannon, or callcannon. It consists of mashed potatoes, parsnips, and chopped onions. A ring, a thimble, a small china doll, and a coin are mixed in, and the one who finds the ring will be married within a year. The one who finds the doll will have children, the one who finds the coin will be wealthy, and the one who finds the thimble will never marry.
Barmbrack—a cake made with a ring concealed inside—is a variation on the same theme. Whoever gets the ring in his or her slice will be the first to marry. Sometimes there is a nut inside, and the one who finds the nut will marry a widow or widower. If the kernel of the nut is shriveled, the finder will never marry.
Nuts have traditionally played a role in Halloween celebrations in the British Isles. In England, Halloween is known as Nutcrack Night. In Ireland, a popular superstition involved putting three nuts on the hearth and naming them after lovers.
If one of the nuts cracked or jumped, that lover would be unfaithful; if it began to burn, it meant that he was interested. If a girl named one of the nuts after herself and it burned together with the nut named after her lover, it meant that they would be married.
The jack-o’-lantern, according to the Irish, was the invention of a man named Jack who was too greedy to get into heaven and couldn’t get into hell because he had tricked the devil.
The devil threw him a lighted coal from hell instead, and Jack stuck it in the turnip he was eating. According to the legend, he used it to light his way as he wandered the earth looking for a final resting place.
Halloween in New Orleans, Louisiana
HALLOWEEN is a spooky and macabre celebration in New Orleans, La., when costumed revelers parade up and down Bourbon Street and actors dressed as legendary characters are on the streets to narrate their grisly histories. The sheriff’s Haunted House in City Park is a standard feature, and a Ghost Train rolls through the park while costumed police officers jump out of bushes to spook the riders.
The Voodoo Museum usually offers a special Halloween ritual in which people may see voodoo rites. Walking tours take visitors to such haunts as Le Pretre House, where a Turkish sultan and his five wives were murdered one night in 1792; it is said that their ghosts still have noisy parties.
On a more solemn note, the St. Louis Cathedral holds vigil services on Halloween, and several masses on ALL SAINTS’ DAY. On the afternoon of that day, the archbishop leaves the cathedral for St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 to bless the newly scrubbed and decorated tombs.
Halloween in Scotland
Many of the traditional customs associated with HALLOWEEN in Scotland are described in the famous poem of that name by the Scottish poet Robert BURNS, although not all of them are still observed. “Pulling the kail” referred to the custom of sending boys and girls out into the garden (or kailyard) blindfolded.
They were instructed to pull up the first plant they encountered and bring it into the house, where its size, shape, and texture would reveal the appearance and disposition of the finder’s future husband or wife. It was also believed that by eating an apple in front of a mirror, a young woman could
see the reflection of her future mate peering over her shoulder.
Another custom referred to by Burns was known as “The Three Dishes,” or Luggies. One was filled with clean water, one with dirty water, and one remained empty. They were arranged on the hearth, and as people were led into the room blindfolded, they would dip their fingers into one of the bowls. Choosing the clean water indicated that one would marry a maiden (or bachelor); the dirty water indicated marriage to a widow (or widower). The empty dish meant that the person was destined never to marry.
“Dipping the shift” was another popular superstition regarding marital prospects. If someone dipped a shirt-sleeve in a south-running stream and hung it up by the fi re to dry, the apparition of the person’s future mate would come in to turn the sleeve.
Superstition surrounded death as well as marriage. It was customary on Halloween for each member of the family to put a stone in the fire and mark a circle around it. When the fire went out, the ashes were raked over the stones. If one of the stones was found out of place the next morning, it means the person to whom it belonged would die within the year.
This content is sourced from Holidays Around the World, 6th Edition. Please feel free to visit our webpage to find out how you can learn more about holidays, festivals, celebrations, commemorations, holy days, feasts and fasts, and other observances from all parts of the world