It’s that time of year again, Halloween! Traditionally this American holiday has been a much bigger deal across the pond but now this spooky night is very popular in the UK. It’s estimated that 2 in 5 Britons now purchase a pumpkin during October. It is also estimated that Britons spend around 300 million on spooky outfits, treats, and of course pumpkins, all for Halloween.
This American influenced festival is now the third most significant holiday after Christmas and Easter; it beats Valentine’s Day too. Much of its popularity can be attributed to our growing love for anything to do with the occult including films and TV shows like Twilight, Supernatural, and Harry Potter.
What is Halloween and why do we celebrate it?
The word ‘Halloween’ comes from the term ‘All Hallows Eve’; this was a celebration which occurred on October 31st across North Western Europe. The 31st of October is the night before ‘All Saints Day’ which is celebrated on the 1st of November; therefore Halloween is the eve of ‘All Saints Day’.
The origins of Halloween can be traced back to ancient Ireland and Scotland; all the way back to the time of Christ. On October 31st the Celts would celebrate the official end of summer. This was an important time of year because all farm animals would be moved into barns and shelters to survive the colder winter months. It was also the time of year when most of the crops were harvested.
Around this time of year there was a lot of superstition associated with the seasons changing. Hundreds of years ago many people believed that fairies and spirits of the dead wandered around looking for bodies to inhabit. The living did not want to be possessed by spirits so they dressed up in costumes and paraded around the streets making loud noises. This was thought to scare spirits, demons, and fairies away. This is where the idea of dressing up on Halloween first originated from.
The 31st of October was also the last night of the year for Celts, according to their old calendar. It was thought on this night chaos ruled so people often would participate in practical jokes; this is where it is thought that the idea of Trick or Treat first came from.
Why do we carve pumpkins?
Halloween drums up images of carved pumpkins or ‘Jack-o-Lanterns’; in America these carefully carved and lit up pumpkins cover the streets during Halloween; they are what a tree is to Christmas. The history of carved pumpkins has many different stories depending on who you ask; but we like the one below; so enjoy!
Legend has it that in 18th century Ireland a foul mouthed drunk named Stingy Jack asked the Devil to have a drink with him. The Devil obliged and when the bill came Jack expected the Devil to pay for it. Jack convinced the Devil that he should turn into a six pence coin; Jack would then pay for the drinks with him as a coin. The Devil was fooled and turned into a six pence coin. Jack lied; he did not pay for the drinks and instead slipped the coin into his pocket next to his silver cross. The Devil was trapped by the cross in Jack’s pocket.
Jack decided to let the Devil out if he agreed to leave him alone with no pay back for 10 whole years. The Devil agreed and was released from Jack’s pocket. After 10 long years the Devil found Jack again; but Jack had a plan. He asked the Devil to get him an apple from a nearby tree before they both travelled back to Hell. The Devil climbed the tree; as he did Jack carved a cross into the tree. This left the Devil stranded, again!
Jack agreed to let the Devil down if he promised not to take him to Hell. The Devil had to agree and let Jack off the hook. When Jack died St. Peter rejected him from the pearly gates because of how he had tricked the Devil on several occasions. There was a problem though; Jack was also not allowed into Hell because of the deal he made with the Devil; this left Jack’s soul stranded on Earth to roam for eternity.
The Devil gave Jack a lump of coal inside a hollowed out turnip so he could light his way through purgatory. Irish families told this tale and put carved turnips in their windows to prevent ghouls and Jack from entering their homes. Irish immigrants carried on this tradition when they landed in the United States; instead of using a turnip they started using pumpkins which were abundant in the states. This tradition and story is why we carve and display Jack-o-Lanterns today during Halloween.