At this time every year, many of us have acquired our stash of candy and anxiously await the arrival of all those children seeking treats, including my grandsons Evan and Noah (from last year). I don’t know about you, but I never gave much more thought to Halloween, until I watched a program on The History Channel about the history of this day. And that prompted me to do some research about Halloween and its traditions. For example, in the 8th Century, Pope Gregory III declared November 1 as All Hallows (Saints) Day, and the evening before became known as All Hallows Evening, later shortened to Halloween (actually Hallowe’en). And I also learned the history of some of the other traditions associated with the holiday:
Trick or Treating. The Celts left food and sweets around for the evil spirits to take and leave. Years later, in medieval times, poor people would go from door to door, begging for food in return for offering prayers for the dead on All Souls Day, November 2.
The Jack-o’-Lantern. Years ago, many Irish and Scottish people would carve a face into a turnip and place a lighted candle inside to honor the dead on All Souls Day. There is also the legend of Irishman Stingy Jack who tricked the devil into climbing a tree. To avenge this, the devil placed a curse on Jack – he was forced to wander the earth with the only light he had: a candle inside of a hollowed turnip. Thus the name.
The Wearing of Costumes. The Celts also believed that at summer’s end (the same time as Halloween), spirits passed by. Of course, the spirits of ancestors were invited into the home, while evil spirits needed to be warded off. To do this, the Celts wore costumes and masks to disguise themselves as evil spirits, thus escaping harm. And of course, today, we see the full range, from the simple to the elaborate and bizarre.
So enjoy the day, but remember the traditions…
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Randolph Mase, Fiction Writer
Death on Broadway
Death Beneath the Streets
Death in Central Park
Death at the Cloisters (being published now!)