What’s Halloween all about, anyway?


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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/11/2019 (1306 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Well, another Halloween as come and gone. If you have young children, I hope they enjoyed the evening and I hope you enjoyed taking them around the community or handing out treats and meeting the neighbours.

So why go through the rituals of costumes, jack-o’-lanterns and trick or treating?

Like Christmas, Halloween is actually a blend of pagan and Christian celebrations.

Souwester The tradition of carving Halloween jack-o’-lanterns can be traced to Irish folkore and the tale of Stingy Jack.

On the pagan side of things, it stems from a British celebration, more than 400 years old, of fall harvest and the transition to cold, dark winter. Folk tales about the boundary between the living and dead becoming blurred, with the souls of lost ones visiting home before finally departing. People were known to impersonate the souls of the dead to disguise themselves, and/or pretend to be the bad spirits, playing pranks and carving harvested vegetables like turnips and beets into scary faces representing the dead. 

Sometimes they were hollowed out and candles placed inside, so they could act as lanterns.

The term jack-o’-lantern appears to derive from a 17th century Irish folktale about Stingy Jack, a sinful man excluded from heaven who tricked the devil from taking his soul to hell. In frustration, the devil threw an ember at him, which Jack kept in a lantern to light his way as he roamed the earth searching for a place to rest.

From a Christian perspective, the origin of Halloween is more than 1,200 years old, as the night before All Saints’ Day, or All Hallow’s Day, commemorating and honouring saints and martyrs.

In addition to hosting feasts and holding vigils, groups of people would walk the streets dressed in black and call on good Christians to remember those departed.  A custom developed in Europe the 15th century to bake and hand out “soul cakes” for groups of poor people, often children, who would go door-to-door offering to pray for dead family members in exchange for the cakes.

The event evolved into something close to the present-day celebration by about the 19th century, and immigrants to north America chose to use the larger, softer pumpkin to carve the jack-o’-lantern. The term “trick or treat” appears to have originated in the late 1920s in Canada, and the mid-1930s in America.

Like Christmas, Halloween has been voraciously commercialized over the past handful of decades. I read somewhere that a quarter of all the candy sold annually in the U.S. is purchased for Halloween.

One of my best memories of Whyte Ridge is a misty Halloween night almost 20 years ago walking through crowds of excited children, and the streetlights gave off a soft, magical orange glow.

Nick Barnes is a community correspondent for Whyte Ridge.

Nick Barnes

Nick Barnes
Whyte Ridge community correspondent

Nick Barnes is a community correspondent for Whyte Ridge.

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