Halloween is tomorrow so it’s only befitting that there be an article celebrating this rather unique festival where sane people go about dressed up and ghosts and ghouls and where children terrorize their neighbors into giving them heaps of candies which, by the way, their parents are okay with. This is one day of the year where all the exorcised evils of the universe are invited back for a day of insane fun, joy, happiness, revelry and feasting.
The name “Halloween”, actually spelt “Hallow E’en” means ‘All Hallows Eve.’ While there are various stories associated with this festival, the most popular one goes something like this. Apparently, on Nov 1, all the disembodied spirits of the people who died the year before would be on the prowl looking for suitable living bodies to possess for the coming year. Obviously, since this was a far from pleasing thought for any living being or, for that matter, a community, they had to take preventive measures to make sure they were not possessed.
Therefore, on the night of October 31, all the villagers would put out the fires burning in their homes, making it as cold, unwelcome, and undesirable as possible. Then, they would dress up in all kinds of ghoulish costumes and parade around their neighborhood creating an unholy din so as to frighten away any spirit that was lurking around in the hopes of seeking occupancy. And, that’s how began this festival of Halloween.
The fascinating custom of trick-or-treating that has become an integral part of Halloween is said to have originated with a ninth-century European custom called “souling”. Early Christians would walk from village to village on November 2, All Souls Day, begging for “soul cakes.” These soul cakes were made of square pieces of bread with currants and in return for them the beggar would promise to say prayers on behalf of the donors’ dead relatives. It was a prominent belief of that time that dead people stayed in limbo for some time after death, and prayer, even if they were offered by strangers, could speed up the soul’s journey to heaven.
The very popular Jack-o-Lantern that has become something of a mascot for this festival owes its existence to an Irish folklore. The story goes that a notorious drunkard and trickster named Jack tricked Satan into climbing a tree and trapped him up there by carving a cross on the trunk. Jack only let the Devil go once he’d promised never to tempt Jack again.
When he died, Jack was denied a place in heaven thanks to his evil ways. But, since the Devil was pretty miffed with him after their little episode, he was not allowed to step into hell either. Legend has it that Jack was given a single ember by the Devil to light his way through the cold, dark days. The ember was placed inside a hollowed-out turnip to keep it glowing longer. When Irish immigrants came to America, turnips were traded in for pumpkins, since they were available in plenty. And that’s how was born the American Jack-O-Lantern.
So many interesting stories and legends, fascinating to hear and even more fascinating to tell. I will be sure to keep them in mind when I pick out my hideous costume, carve the grotesque lantern from the pumpkin, and wait for a pack of noisy children to step into my parlor……let the fun begin!