Historical Hallows Eve

By Allison Dolan

Hi, I’m Taylor, the fall intern here at Family Tree Magazine. Nice to meet you all!

As Halloween rolls around, you begin thinking of costumes, candies and creatures. But where did all these spooks and treats come from? Before you crack out the latest scary movie and devour your favorite snack, let’s catch up on some Hallow-history.

According to our new book Good Old Days, My Ass Irish Potato Famine Immigrants brought Halloween and the jack-o-lantern to America after 1846. The original jack-o-lantern tale is rather gruesome. “Jack” trapped the devil inside a tree until he agreed that Jack, an avid sinner, would never go to hell. The devil then gave Jack a burning ember to light his way through the dark places in the world. Jack placed the ember into a lantern made of a turnip. When the Irish reached America, pumpkins proved more practical than turnips.

But, one of the world’s oldest holidays, Halloween celebrations have been going on since way past our time and have evolved from the festivals celebrated by our ancestors. Celtic Ireland is credited with creating our spook fests. Known as Samhain, Oct. 31 was for clearing out the old and starting new. As the Celtic New Year, Samhain marked the beginning of the 11th month.

Celtics believed that on this day, the thin veil between our world and the otherworld was weakest, allowing spirits to inhabit the land for a single night. While this mostly included deceased family members, malevolent souls were also allowed passage. The villagers would dress up in scary, distorted masks to deter evil spirits from causing them harm.

The Romans celebration was based on Pomona, the goddess of fruit trees, especially apples. Many dishes served during this gathering were apple based; this is where “bobbing for apples” is derived as well as caramel apples. Seventh century Pope Boniface wanted to channel citizens away from Pagan traditions and declared Nov. 1, All Saints Day, which kicked off Oct. 31 as All Hallows Eve.

While many countries continue these traditions, Hispanic countries have their own interpretation. Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a three-day celebration beginning on Oct. 31. This is a time when deceased loved ones return to their homes. Family members build alters to welcome their ancestors. They will gather favorite foods and items of the deceased as well as flowers and incense to guide them home. The family will then visit at the graveyard to remember those they’ve lost.

Check out these Halloween history websites to learn more.