1. Home
  2. /
  3. Featured
  4. /
  5. Halloween: A Cultural Mashup

Halloween: A Cultural Mashup

Submitted by Christine Whelan

Oct 28th, 2021, VOL. 3 ISSUE 5

The holiday is a celebration of all things spooky. It’s also a combination of several celebrations, legends, and traditions from different cultures and religions at various times in history. Some are scary, some are odd, and then there are some — well, there are some that are best left in history. Here are a handful, in review.

The ancient Celtic people celebrated Samhain, marking the end of the harvest season. It was said to be a time when the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred, and ghosts visited the earth. After the Roman Empire conquered the Celtic people, their festivals of Feralia (in which the Romans honored the passing of the dead) and a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees, were combined with Samhain.

The Catholic holiday of All Saints’ Day, or All Hallows’ Day, on November 1st also contributes to the history of Halloween. It honors the saints who have attained Heaven. Celebrated one day later on November 2nd, All Souls’ Day honors all who have died but have not yet reached Heaven.

The Irish Legend of Stingy Jack: The Origin of the Jack ‘o Lantern

According to legend, Stingy Jack invited the devil to have a drink with him, but Jack didn’t want to pay for the drink, so he convinced the devil to turn himself into a coin. Instead of buying the drink, he pocketed the coin and kept it close to a silver cross in his house, preventing the devil from taking shape again. He promised to let the devil go as long as he would leave Jack alone for a year and if he died, the devil wouldn’t claim his soul. After a year, Jack tricked the devil again to leave him alone and not claim his soul.

When Jack did finally die, God didn’t want such a conniving person in heaven and the devil, true to his word, would not allow him into hell. Jack was sent off into the night with only a burning coal to light his path. He placed the coal inside a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the earth ever since.

People in Ireland and Scotland began creating their own creations of Jack’s lanterns out of turnips, beets, and potatoes. The tradition traveled to the United States along with the immigrants and people began to use pumpkins, native to North America, for the lanterns instead.

Candy corn was originally called Chicken Feed

Because corn is what was used to feed chickens, the candy was first called “Chicken Feed” and the box was marked with a colorful rooster. Created in the 1880s by George Renninger, it was sold to the masses by Goelitz Confectionery Company (now Jelly Belly Co.) at the turn of the century.

Trick-or-Treating Comes From “Souling”

The tradition of having children dress up in costumes and go door-to-door asking for treats can be traced back to the Middle Ages and the rituals of Samhain.

It was believed that phantoms walked the earth on the night of Samhain, so people would dress up in costumes in an effort to repel the spirits. As the Catholic Church started replacing pagan festivals with their own holidays (like All Souls’ Day), the act of “souling” became popular, and children and adults would go door-to-door dressed as spirits accepting food in exchange for prayers.

Souling: The action, practice, or ritual of going about asking for donations of food, etc., traditionally on the eve of All Souls’ Day.

Back then, it was known as “guising” in Scotland and Ireland. Young people dressed up in costumes and went door-to-door looking for food or money in exchange for songs, poems, or other tricks they performed. Today, the tradition has morphed into children getting dressed up and asking for candy. Hardly anyone performs for their candy these days.

Some Halloween rituals are thankfully forgotten.

According to History.com, some traditions used to involve finding a husband. During the 18th century, single ladies devised Halloween traditions that were supposed to help them find a romantic match.  Women would throw apple peels over their shoulders, hoping to see their future husband’s initials in the pattern when they landed. When the women bobbed for apples at parties, it was said the winner would marry first. Most spookily, they even used to stand in a dark room, holding a candle in front of a mirror to look for their future husband’s face to appear in the glass.

Can you imagine?

Happy Halloween, everyone!

There are no upcoming events at this time.