What started out ages ago as the Samhain festival and All Hallow’s Day has lead to the present-day traditions of Halloween.
The book “Witches, Pumpkins, and Grinning Ghosts -The Story of the Halloween Symbols” by Edna Barth, tells of the Halloween origin that dates back to the Celtic people. They feared the evening of Oct. 31 more than any other day of the year.
Another book, “Halloween-Why We Celebrate It The Way We Do” by Martin and Kate Hintz, explains that the Druids had a ceremony in the fall to help the sun. They built huge fires, hot like the sun. They thought it would free the sun and frighten away the dead. They wore masks and costumes. Masks would scare the spirits and costumes would keep the spirits from recognizing people.
In 835 A.D. the Roman Catholic Church tried to change the holiday. Church leaders set aside All Saints’ Day to honor their saints who had died, also called All Hallow’s Day or Hallowmas. It was celebrated on Nov. 1, so Oct. 31, was then known as All Hallow’s Even.
A face carved in the side of a pumpkin with a candle that lights up the face is called a “jack o’ lantern,” in honor of a man named Jack. Jack tricked the devil to promise not to take his soul. The devil was angry. When Jack died, the devil made his spirit roam the earth forever. Jack complained to the devil that it was too dark, so the devil gave him a burning coal. Jack put the coal in a turnip because it was so hot. This was the first jack o’ lantern.
Irish immigrants brought many of their favorite Halloween customs with them to North America in the 19th century. They played games and pranks and also brought the idea of the turnip jack o’ lanterns. It was not until the tradition came to North America that pumpkins were used.
Trick or treating has a long tradition as well, starting with the Roman harvest festivals where apples were given to friends. This started the tradition of giving and receiving treats on Halloween.
Halloween traditions are continued and added to in the present day.
Alisa Gunn from Mountain Green shared her family tradition of Halloween: Alisa’s siblings get together each year at one of their homes for a festive dinner and costume party. Alisa described, “The evening begins when the guests arrive in their costumes. Some will participate in a Halloween piano recital, then dinner is served.”
The meal consists of a stew-like dish cooked in a pumpkin, chili and pumpkin-shaped orange gelatin with green shredded coconut. Also served is popcorn stuffed in a rubber glove with black jelly beans at the tip of each finger of the glove.
Afterwards there is bobbing for apples and eating donuts off a hanging string with no hands. The younger ones go through the house trick or treating, while the older ones await behind various doors in the house with a Halloween prize or treat to give them.
Before Halloween is also when Alan and Linda Turner’s family gathers together for some family fun.
The Turner home is decorated early in the month for the season, using an indoor alpine tree as a focal point with Autumn leaves, fall colors and decorative stringed lights.
“I always try to make the holiday special and fun for the family,” Linda said about her family’s traditions.
Linda described that in past Octobers, sometimes they would gather at the family condo during UEA week. The extended family would gather at a place of amusement such as Lagoon’s Frightmares. Sometimes they have gone to Black Island Farms in Syracuse. Linda described that they have wagon rides, corn mazes, slides made of hay, and pick-your-own pumpkin fields.
The grandchildren carve their pumpkins into jack o’ lanterns just a few days before the big day. They will melt caramels and have apple slices for a snack. When the children come Halloween night, there will be a warm drink, either hot chocolate or apple cider.
No matter how the holiday began, the myths have led to wonderful traditions that bring families together and create lasting memories.