8-days of Halloween: Day 1, Halloween History

Hello and welcome to my 8-days of Halloween blog-o-rama.  These articles are intended to be a fun, tidbit oriented orgy of little factoids about Halloween.  I’m not going to dive into occult stuff with pentagrams or any of that gibberish. I’m putting this out at the beginning of October to give anyone who may want or need ideas to help plan their party and/or costume for the end-of-the-month festivities a helping hand.

The rest of the days will be as follows based on requests I have received:

Getting started, where did Halloween come from?  The HistoryChannel.com has a succinct review:

Straddling the line between fall and winter, plenty and paucity, life and death, Halloween is a time of celebration and superstition. It is thought to have originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints and martyrs; the holiday, All Saints’ Day, incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before was known as All Hallows’ Eve and later Halloween. Over time, Halloween evolved into a secular, community-based event characterized by child-friendly activities such as trick-or-treating. In a number of countries around the world, as the days grow shorter and the nights get colder, people continue to usher in the winter season with gatherings, costumes and sweet treats.

Samhain is pronounced “Sow-in” in Irish-Gaelic and some nice British hippies provide all sorts of further information on their website www.new-age.co.uk:

This festival celebrates Nature’s cycle of death and renewal, a time when the Celts acknowledged the beginning and ending of all things in life and nature. Samhain marked the end of harvest and the beginning of the New Celtic Year. The first month of the Celtic year was Samonios – ‘Seed Fall’.

Two Roman festivals became incorporated with Samhain – ‘Feralia’, when the Romans commemorated the passing of the dead, and ‘Pomona’, when the Roman goddess of fruit and trees was honoured. The Halloween tradition of bobbing for apples is thought to derive from the ancient links with the Roman fruit goddess, Pomona, and a Druidical rite associated with water.

Bonfires and Feasts for the Dead: The bonfires were to warm friendly spirits and ward off evil spirits, and also represented the sun which they wished would return, bringing heat and growth.

It was custom to give an ember from the fires to attending families, who would then take it home to start a new cooking fire. These fires were believed to keep the homes happy and free from any lost evil spirits.

The name ‘bonfire’ is believed to be derived from the custom of burning the bones of the cattle which were slaughtered at this time – a ‘bone fire’.

Samhain is considered a celebration of life over death, and a time to remember those who have left the world of the living.

The eve became known as: All Saints’ Eve, All Hallows’ Eve, or Hallowe’en. All Saints’ Day is said to be the day when souls walked the Earth. In early Christian tradition souls were released from purgatory on All Hallow’s Eve for 48 hours.

In order to protect themselves from any roaming evil spirits the Celts would appease them by offering them treats. The custom of wearing costumes on Halloween is thought to derive from the Celts disguising themselves at Samhain, so the spirits would think that they belonged to their own company.

Samhain traditions and games: Stones with a personal mark were thrown into the fire. These had to be retrieved from the ashes to ensure luck for the coming year, if your stone was missing or damaged it was considered a sign of forthcoming bad luck.

Also known as ‘Nutcrack Night’, because it was a popular custom at Samhain to throw nuts on the fire – if a nut burned brightly it meant that the thrower would be alive in twelve months time, and if it flared up brightly it meant marriage within twelve months.

To see if a relationship will last, place two hazelnuts side by side and burn them over a fire. If they stay together as they burn then the couple will last, but if the nuts burst apart the relationship will break up.

Baked cakes were offered up for the souls of the dead. All the family would eat the festival Soul cakes – known as ‘barnbrack’ cakes in Ireland – which often contained lucky or unlucky tokens : a coin for fortune, a button for remaining unwed, a ring for marriage, a wishbone for your heart’s desire, a pea for poverty.

The Ivy Leaf prediction: everyone in the house places a perfect ivy leaf into a cup of water and then leave them undisturbed overnight. In the morning if a leaf is still perfect and has not developed any spotting, this predicts that the person who placed the leaf in the cup will enjoy 12 months health until the following Halloween. If not…

In Scotland the fishermen would wade into the sea at Samhain and pour out a bowl of ale into the waves for the ‘Shoney’ – a sea serpent-like being, to ensure a good catch for the coming year.

At Balmoral on Halloween night, during Queen Victoria’s time a bonfire was lit and an effigy of an old woman called the Shandy Dann was indicted with witchcraft, then thrown onto the fire.

At the Forest of Pendle in North Lancashire, at Samhain a ceremony called the ‘Lating the Witches’ took place. Locals believed witches gathered here on this auspicious night, so lit candles were carried over the hills between 11 p.m and midnight – lighting the witches or ‘lating’ them. If a candle stayed lit then the witches’ power was broken, but if it went out – blown out by a witch – bad luck may follow.

On the morning of November 1st a silver coin was thrown through the front door of the house. The coin had to remain where it had fallen in order to bring financial luck.

Where did Jack the Lantern come from?

The name Jack O’Lantern derives from an old Irish tale of a villain who after he died could not enter heaven or hell – a damned soul. So he was condemned to wander the land with only a candle to see his way (some say it was a hot ember from the devil), which he placed inside a gouged out vegetable to act as a lantern. Others believe Jack-O-Lantern was a mischievous spirit who carried a light at night and lures night travellers into bogs or marshes, which were the dwelling places of fairies.

The Jack O’ Lantern used to be made from a turnip, but Irish emigrants to America adopted the plentiful pumpkin since it is much easier to carve. In the Isle of Man they still carve turnips to make lanterns and call the night ‘Hop To Naa’, not Hallowe’en, or Trick or Treating.

More on the tale of Stingy Jack

People have been making jack-o’-lanterns at Halloween for centuries. The practice originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed “Stingy Jack.” According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul. The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree’s bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years.

Soon after, Jack died. As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell. He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as “Jack of the Lantern,” and then, simply “Jack O’Lantern.”

In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack’s lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits. In England, large beets are used. Immigrants from these countries brought the jack o’lantern tradition with them when they came to the United States. They soon found that pumpkins, a fruit native to America, make perfect jack-o’-lanterns.

From MentalFloss.com; I snatched up some great ideas of Jack-O-Lanterns…

Rick Villafane has a knack from some awesome 3-D art, and pumpkins are only part of it, click here to go to his website and see more awesome 3-D rendered gourds.

Fantasy Pumpkins is a website run by Noel Dickover (you can’t make a name like that up) and has tutorials on how to craft your fantasy inspired pumpkin. He has a plethora of Star Wars and other great fantasy themed pumpkin carving designs!

Extreme Pumpkins is a great site if you want to go above and beyond your typical front yard Jack-O-Lantern decorating, but don’t think you have the mad hacker skills to carve the above detailed sketches into the lumpy surface of your pumpkin of choice. You can glean ideas on how to pose your run-of-the-mill carved Jack-O-Lantern in new and exciting ways and they offer other ideas, tutorials, and patterns.

OK, maybe knives scare you or you don’t like getting your hands and arms gooey with pumpkin guts.  You can paint your pumpkin!  From TagYerIt.com a great collection of hand-painted pumpkins from around the world.

Blizzard Entertainment also had a pumpkin carving contest one year.  Since the South Park Episode; Make Love not Warcraft (click to watch the full, beautiful digital quality episode @ South Park Studios) was what got many people to play the game that I’ve spoken to I can’t pass this picture by…

I'm a Hero of the Alliance!!!

What do you do when the festivities are over?  Why, you chuck your pumpkin of course!

Because I’m a nerd and a redneck I bring you Punkin Chunkin from the Science Channel (I first saw this a few years back and it’s pretty hilarious) and I encourage you to click the link and watch some of the vids.

For 25 years, Punkin Chunkin has hit the skies. The World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association (WCPCA) is a nonprofit association started in 1986 that hosts the Punkin’ Chunkin’ World Championships, an event which raises money for scholarships and charitable organizations.

Mostly these backyard enthusiasts design catapults and trebuchets for launching their pumpkins over the greatest distance. But, there’s a special class for air-cannons– and they’re huge. It’s become such a success there is even a special pumpkin (white pumpkins) used for the air-cannons that holds together under the pressure, otherwise you get ‘pumpkin pie’ in your gun.  It’s not a pretty visual.

Built by Ray Tolsen in his front yard with 6000 hours of construction and powered by two 500-gallon air tanks. photo by Heather Quinlan

Hey, by the way, did you ever go trick-or-treating as a kid only to bring your bag of goodies home and then have to wait forever as your parents picked through your pile looking for that illicit candy that may be poisoned or a piece of fruit that might have a razor blade wedged into the core?

I never bothered to learn the details until now when I stumbled across the story on Cracked.com in their article 5 People Who Screwed Things Up for Everybody

Ronald Clark O’Bryan ruined Halloween for Everyone:

If you grew up in America, odds are pretty good that you’ve donned your costume and done your Halloween rounds just like millions of other children. You may cherish the memories of getting home from a long night of trick-or-treating, pulling off your ninja mask and dumping a huge-ass sack of candy onto the carpet. You may also remember, rather less fondly, waiting for what seemed to be a light-year (concepts of time and space weren’t your strong suit) for your parents to finish searching said candy for deadly poison.

If you asked them what they were doing, they’d tell you stories of evil people all across America inserting poison or razor blades or some other horrifying object into the candy they hand out to children. A policeman may even have shown up at your school to lecture you about it, or you may have seen public service announcements on television, warning you to only accept candy from people you knew, and only treats that still had their wrappers intact.

What is it about Halloween candy that turned normal grown-ups into over-protective zealots? It’s such a bizarre, improbable thing to worry about, like not letting you jump in the ball pit at Chuck E. Cheese’s for fear there might be snakes in there. How many poison-dealing mass murderers can there be in the Western world, anyway?

Actually, it all traces back to one person. The man in question is Ronald Clark O’Bryan, an almighty dickhole who poisoned his own 8-year-old son with cyanide in order to collect on a $40,000 life insurance policy, and who we will exclusively refer to with irreverent nicknames from now on because, seriously, screw that guy.

Why couldn't he have used those shitty tootsie-roll candies?

Asshole O’Bryan slipped the poison into a bunch of Pixy Stix, which he then stapled shut. Yes, we said a bunch — one just wouldn’t do, because following some strange logic accessible to only the criminally insane, Shitbricks O’Bryan decided to poison every child his son went trick-or-treating with. Through either a miracle or, more likely, the fact that Pixy Stix suck balls, none of the other kids were harmed. O’Bryan was caught, found guilty and executed, but the case was widely publicized and so the damage had already been done.

And that is how even now, close to 40 years later, a trick-or-treater has to write off every piece of candy with a hole in the wrapper. Which is really sort of unfair, as although there have been a couple of other isolated incidents of poisoned candy since Dick O’Bryan set the trend, not a single one of them has been the doing of a random poison-maniac with a grudge against kids in cheesy costumes.

So, we guess the moral of the story is: If someone is going to poison your child’s Halloween candy, chances are it’s going to be you.

Lastly, whether you’re throwing a party or making it a quiet night with the porch light off here are some websites with great ideas for recipes that are Halloween themed:





Art by: Jasmine Becket-Griffith


One response to “8-days of Halloween: Day 1, Halloween History

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