Once a month, author Dane Huckelbridge gives us a nourishing dose of useful (for the most part) knowledge. In today's post, he tackles Halloween.
Each year, on October 31st, millions of people across America and the British Isles dress in outlandish costumes and venture out into the darkness. For younger celebrants, it’s the chance to score enough candy to slip into a three-day sugar high. For the more mature set, it’s the unique opportunity to admire a host of scanty get-ups and get over-served by a bartender in mouse ears. And for everyone, it’s the one night of the year when all things ghostly and paranormal are to be celebrated rather than feared. The day in question? Of course, it’s Arbor Day, that special time of—no, wait! Halloween! Yes, of course. And while all of us know what Halloween entails, the historical origins are not always so clear. So here’s the skinny.
Harvest festivals have been a part of European—indeed, global—cultures for thousands of years. But the ancient Samhain tradition that took place on the night of October 31st in the Celtic lands of Scotland and Ireland had a unique set of rituals attached to it. There were cleansing bonfires, entreaties to the otherworldly fairy folk, and invocations for the spirits of the dead. Costumes were adopted as well, perhaps as a means of tricking spirits into thinking they were among their own. It was a time of year when the border between the physical world and the spiritual world was broken, and mystical things allowed to take place. Oh, and the Irish started a tradition of carving turnips into candle holders, based around a folk tale involving a figure named “Stingy Jack.” This would evolve into the modern jack-o’-lantern when New World pumpkins were thrown into the mix.
Never ones to be outdone, however, early Christians had a holiday of their own: All Saints’ Eve, or All Hallows’ Eve, which took place traditionally on November 1st. It was the time of the liturgical year for remembering the dead, especially the vast array of saints venerated by churchgoers. Given the same emphasis on evoking dead spirits, and their one-day separation, it should come as no surprise that the two holidays, pagan Samhain and Christian All Hallows’ Eve, eventually merged into what we know as Halloween. True, single-serving Reese’s Cups and Good N’ Plenty were still a few centuries away, but Halloween was there to stay, to be spread to America by immigrants from Scotland and Ireland, and gradually adopted by the country as a whole.
So that’s the story of Halloween. As for naughty nurse costumes, well, for that, you’re on your own. Or ask your old man. He just might know.