Holiday wishes from all of us (and a brief history of Halloween).
Well, the day of ghosts, goblins and witches (princesses and superheroes, too) is upon us. Children are giddy with anticipation and TV stations are celebrating the occasion with back-to-back horror films.
As with many others, even before the holiday became fueled by money—the decorations market alone is worth $2 billion a year—its original meaning had long been lost.
Although Halloween is now associated with scary images, costumes, orange and black decorations and candy-seeking trick-or-treaters, it had a less frightening and commercial start. Halloween is thought to date back to 800 B.C., when the Celtic festival of Samhain (Gaelic for “summer’s end”), marking the end of summer and celebrating the recent harvest, was first practiced across what are now England, Ireland and northern France.
On the night before the event, the Celts honored Samhain, the lord of death, and the spirits of those who passed away during the year by lighting sacred bonfires on hilltops. It is believed that in order to start a fire later in the family hearth, small embers from the huge blazes were carried home in hollowed-out gourds. Ever superstitious, the Celts donned costumes and carved fearless faces in the fruit to ward off roaming evil spirits during the late-night journey home.
In the Christian world, Halloween started as All Saints’ Day, created by Pope Boniface IV in the seventh century to collectively honor all the saints and martyrs who didn’t have a day of their own. Originally celebrated on May 13, Pope Gregory III moved it to November 1 in eighth century, some say to discourage Christians from celebrating Samhain. Observed on the evening before All Saints’ Day, it was called All Hallows Eve, but the name was shortened over time to Halloween.
As far as the grinning pumpkins inexorably linked to the holiday, the term jack-o’-lantern was taken from an 18th-century Irish folk tale about a crafty Irishman named Jack who tricked the devil into climbing an apple tree, then quickly carved a cross in the trunk, trapping him up in the branches, so the story goes.
When Jack died some years later, he was refused entry into heaven because of his mean-spirited act, and the devil, still holding a grudge, offered no place for him in hell, either (sure, no problem, sport). A homeless soul, Jack was forced to forever wander the pitch-black netherworld. But the once-bitter Prince of Darkness eventually felt sorry for Jack and gave him a lump of burning coal to light his way, which the old Irish bugger dropped into a hollow turnip he had been eating.
Thus, it all began.
Have a safe a very happy Halloween, everyone!