I don’t remember pumpkin carving as a youngster ... our next ‘celebration’ was the Guy Fawkes, Firework and Bonfire night on 5th November ... the trick or treat, spidery devlish dressing up seems to have become popular in the last few decades – coming back over the pond from the States.
But Hallowe‘en has a longer history than that and is thought to have originated from the pagan festival of Samhain, meaning ‘summer’s ending’ in Old Irish, indicating the New Year: an important event in the Celtic calendar that would begin at the turn of dusk every October 31st.
Christian and Pagan lore co-existed side by side until both in the 21st centuries have their place – in the Christian Church, or as part of Pagan festivals.
|All Saints (All Hallows, Hallowmas)|
Painting by Fra Angelico (1395 - 1455)
All Hallows’ Day, originally celebrated on May 13th, was better known as All Saints’ Day, a feast day celebrated to honour the saints and martyrs of Christian history, and those departed souls who had yet to reach Heaven.
Pope Gregory, in 835 AD, decided to move All Hallows’ Day to 1st November so it coincided with Samhain – making it easier to convert pagans to Christianity.
|Pomona, by Nicolas Fouche|
All Souls’ Day follows on 2nd November, a day used to commemorate the faithful departed ... praying for their release from Purgatory into the acceptance of Heaven.
Celtic and pagan festivals would have had communities celebrating with harvest fare, bonfires, ancient customs – leaving some of the food outside to pacify the wandering souls ... dressing up as part of these rituals to scare off evil spirits while they checked for soul cakes.
|Snap-Apple Night (1832)|
by Daniel Maclise: depicts apple
bobbing and divination games at a
Halloween party in Blarney, Ireland
As influences moved between countries – it is thought that the origins of Hallowe’en perhaps also had links with the Roman feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds ... the festivals continued to evolve with the passage of time ...
Shakespeare mentions the practice of collecting soul cakes in his comedy “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” (1593) ... so the tradition occurred as far south as Italy.
In Britain these customs came under attack during the Reformation as Protestants berated Purgatory as a “popish” doctrine ... this, coupled with the rising popularity of Guy Fawkes Night from 1605 onward, led to Hallowe’en’s popularity waning in England and Wales.
|In this Halloween greeting card|
from 1904, divination is depicted:
a young woman looking into a
mirror in a darkened room hopes
to catch a sight of her future
Samhain and Hallowe’en were celebrated in Scotland and Ireland since at least the early Middle Ages (5th century onwards) – they were seen as important to the life cycle and rites of passage of communities and thus ensuring the festival’s survival in those countries.
North American almanacs of the late 18th and early 19th century give no indication that Hallowe’en was celebrated there. The Puritans of New England, for example, maintained strong opposition to Hallowe’en and it was not until the mass Irish and Scottish immigration during the 19th century that Hallowe’en was brought to North America in earnest.
Subsequently it was gradually assimilated into mainstream society and by the early 1900s was being celebrated coast to coast by people of all social racial and religious backgrounds.
|Traditional Cornish Jack o' Lantern|
made from a turnip (NB good for pasties!)
Nowadays one of the most practiced customs of Hallowe’en is the carving of a pumpkin, referred to as a Jack O’Lantern. This tradition is believed to have originated from the old Irish legend of Stingy Jack, a miserable farmer who played a trick on the devil ...
.... as punishment for his actions Jack was forced to wander the earth in between heaven and hell, with his only light being a single candle placed inside a hollowed out turnip.
The spooky faces are believed to have been carved to scare off Jack – but it wasn’t until the tradition of carving the lanterns moved to America that pumpkins were used instead of turnips, as they are easier to carve.
|Traditional pumpkin carving|
Mischief Night (also known as Devil’s Night, Hell Night, Cabbage Night .. etc) is another night of trickery – either before Hallowe’en, or Bonfire Night ...
... dating back to the 1700s when it was an evening of chaos – thought to have started in a time when laws were often suspended for several hours or days in Britain, leaving trickery to prevail.
Mischief ranged from throwing cabbages to swapping shopkeeper’s signs, customs that continue to this day in parts of the north of England.
|Trick or Treating in Sweden|
Typical festive Hallowe’en activities include trick-or-treating, attending costume parties, carving pumpkins into lanterns, lighting bonfires, apple bobbing, visiting haunting attractions, playing pranks, telling scary stories and watching horror films.
History has shown us that Hallowe’en is not just a single night of mysteries, it is part of a series of ancient events and dates with strong English and Irish roots that have developed over time into the period of celebration we are so familiar with.
NaNoWriMo – good luck to all who are participating this year ... have fun.
Disaster “Sandy” ... anyone, family, and/or friends, who has been caught in the various events – flood, trees, sand, wind damage, snow, electricity failure etc etc ... my thoughts are with you – may the coming days bring relief ... and coming months and years enable your life to ease back to a degree of normality.
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