Halloween - Behind The Curtain: 4 Spooky Halloween Origin Stories You'll Love This Year
Oct 15, 2017
Hubble, bubble, toil and trouble! Yes, it’s that time of year again where we don our pointy hats and face paint before taking to the streets in search of sweets. Halloween, once a very American holiday, has been slowly seeping further into our English culture, and now it’s rare to go down a street in the UK around Halloween without seeing some sort of decoration. Even if it’s just a pumpkin on the doorstep. But what started all of these spooky traditions in the first place?
The First Halloween
Many people think that Halloween is a fairly new festival – born from the witch hunts of Salem. But actually, All Hallows Eve is far older than we give it credit for. Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celts, who lived 2000 years ago in the areas that are now Ireland, England and northern France, celebrated their new year not on January 1st, but November 1st. This day marked the end of summer and the bountiful harvest, and the start of a the time of year associated with the death of humans. In that age, cold and famine were big killers, and Celts believed that on the night before new year, the boundaries between the world of the living and the dead became blurred, and on Samhain, the ghosts of the dead would return to walk the earth. The Celts believed that the spirits were both good and bad. On the one hand, they believed that the spirits would damage their crops wherever they walked. On the other, they believed that the presence of these spirits made it easier for Druids (catholic priests) to make predictions about the coming year. For people so dependent on the volatile natural world, these predictions were a huge source of comfort. To celebrate, Druids built huge sacrificial bonfires and gathered the townspeople, who burned crops and animals as sacrifice to Celtic deities. During this celebration costumes were work, typically consisting of animal heads and skins. When the celebration was over, their hearth fires were re-lit from the remains of the sacred bonfire to protect them during the harsh winters.
The carved pumpkin decorations we know as Jack-o-lanterns originally came from Ireland, and were typically made form turnips instead of pumpkins. They are based on the local legend of a man called Stingy Jack, a magician who would repeatedly call and trap the Devil, only letting him go on the condition that Jack would never go to hell. However, when Jack died he learnt that Heaven didn’t really want his soul after his deals with the Devil, and so he was condemned to walk the earth as a ghost for all eternity. As a gift, the Devil gave Jack a lump of burning hot coal, which Jack carried around in a carved out turnip to light his way in the dark. Locals started to carve ghoulish faces into their own turnips to represent the tortured faces of those in hell, hoping to scare him away from their homes.
Trick or Treating
To this day there is still fierce debate over the true origin of trick or treating. In reality, the practice has evolved from the practices of Samhain (which we talked about above). During the festivities, villagers would leave out plates of food to placate the spirits travelling the earth that night. This then evolved into people rewarding other believers who had dressed up with similar offerings of food and drink.
In Scotland, people believe trick or treating stems from the practice of guising, which is a secular version of souling. In the Middle ages, soulers, children and poor adults would go to local homes and collect food or money in return for prayers said for the dead on All Souls’ Day. As religion became less popular, many soulers opted to get rid of the prayers in exchange for less religious performances like jokes, songs or other ‘tricks’.
Different again –in America some sources argue that modern trick-or-treating comes from a practice called belsnickling. Belsnickling is a tradition in German-American communities, where children would dress up in costumes and call on their neighbours and see if anyone could guess who they were under the costume. If no one at the house could guess who they were, the child was rewarded with food or other treats.
Poor black cats, they do get a bad rap don’t they? The link between black cats and spookiness has its roots in the Middle Ages, where they were believed to be a symbol of the Devil because of their black colouring. It didn’t help that later on, when the witch hunts were in full swing, many of the accused were found to have black cats as companions. People believed that the black cats were given to witches by the Devil to enhance their powers and assist with their dark magic, and so the black cat is a sign that a witch – and bad luck – is nearby. The two have been linked together ever since.
And there you have it! 4 spooky Halloween traditions, and the story of where they really came from. Halloween is one of our favourite times of year here at Spice, because we get to relax, dress up in fun costumes and enjoy ourselves at some of the best Halloween parties around! Just check out our Facebook page to see what we will be up to this year. And don’t forget, if you’d like to join our social cult of dark Halloween celebrations, you just need to click here.