“On route home after a night’s drinking, Jack encounters the Devil and tricks him into climbing a tree. A quick-thinking Jack etches the sign of the cross into the bark, thus trapping the Devil. Jack strikes a bargain that Satan can never claim his soul. After a life of sin, drink, and mendacity, Jack is refused entry to heaven when he dies. Keeping his promise, the Devil refuses to let Jack into hell and throws a live coal straight from the fires of hell at him. It was a cold night, so Jack places the coal in a hollowed-out turnip to stop it from going out, since which time Jack and his lantern have been roaming looking for a place to rest.” —Encyclopedia of Death and Dying
Above is a popular Irish Christian folktale associated with the jack-o’-lanterns—a Halloween tradition that developed in the United States when Irish immigrants brought their root vegetable carving tradition with them. With Halloween just around the corner, let’s get some background information on this festival.
Halloween in the Ancient Time
It all started with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain
, a special gathering of people wearing costumes to ward off ghosts while sitting around bonfires. Fast forward to the eighth century, Pope Gregory III announced November 1 as the day to honor all the saints. This led to the incorporation of some of the Samhain traditions into the All Saints Day celebrations.
The evening preceding All Saints Day is called All Hallow’s Eve, which later became Halloween. Over the past years, All Hallow’s Eve or Halloween has evolved into a day-long celebration involving several activities, including eating treats, carving jack-o’-lanterns, trick-or-treating, costume exhibition, and other styles of festivity.
Symbols of Halloween
Contrary to the popular assumption, the first jack-o’-lantern was a turnip and not a pumpkin. Irish and Scottish are known to carve scary faces into potatoes and turnips
on All Hallow’s Eve. They then place embers inside these carved faces, expecting them to deter evil spirits and Stingy Jack. The tradition was gradually passed on to European immigrants as they visited the United States. This group of people eventually found out that pumpkins are excellent for jack-o’-lanterns. You will most likely find pumpkin-made jack-o’-lanterns on doorsteps and windowsills when Halloween approaches.
Skeletons are important symbols of the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain
and double as the source of modern-day Halloween. The night of October 31 is Halloween, and it denotes the end of the harvest season and the start of winter. The Celts call it a festival of the dead because they believe the boundary between the dead and living realms became blurred on this day, allowing ghosts to return into the midst of the living. The adoption of skeletons as a symbol of Halloween is a reminder that the holiday is about the dead.
Bats are synonymous with death, evil, and mystery in most contexts. According to Adrienne Mayor
, a classics scholar from Sanford University, bats “engage in mysterious activities in the dark, and so they have been cloaked in superstition since ancient times.” Several theories relate the vital link between Halloween and bats to the Samhain festival. Celts celebrated the end of the harvest season on October 31 with bonfires around to ward off the evil spirits while attracting insects and, in turn, bats to the scene.
The only human-related symbol of Halloween is the witch riding away over a full moon. The connection between witches and Halloween is often attributed to two reasons. First, witches and their “craft” are usually linked with darkness. Halloween indicating a change in season, also means it marks the start of a darker period of the year. Second, witches are believed to communicate with the dead, and Halloween is a holiday created to remember the dead.
Customs of Halloween
Despite being a traditional Halloween custom, trick-or-treating is more suited to children than adults. Children dressed in unique costumes often go around houses in their neighborhood asking “trick or treat” when a door is opened. This is a form of asking for treats but with some implied threat of tricking those who refuse.
The “treat” is usually some form of candy. Candy is quite popular in America. It has been reported that the average American eats 24 pounds of candy a year
, and most of that is likely consumed right around Halloween. Trick-or-treating usually occurs on the evening of October 31. Homeowners who are willing to hand out treats often cooperate by putting up Halloween decorations just outside their doors. Alternatively, they may leave the candies on their porches for the visiting children to pick from.
Telling Ghost Stories
Do not be surprised if you see a gathering of friends on Halloween day sharing spooky stories. It is usually fun to do, especially with other activities like hayrides, bonfires, and pumpkin carving.
Halloween Costume Party
Whether you are hosting or joining one, experiencing a costume party is part of the Halloween customs. The original Halloween costumes were modeled after scary figures like witches, devils, skeletons, ghosts, and vampires. Nowadays, people have introduced celebrities and famous fictional characters, including princesses and ninjas.
Creating your own Halloween costume is an enjoyable part of the process, especially if you are creative. It is an excellent opportunity to exhibit creativity and create something unique and different from other costumes. It’s interesting to note that pets are not left out of the fun. Statistics show that Americans spent $490 million on pet costumes in 2019
—more than double what they spent in 2010. The biggest buys include pumpkin pet costumes, hot dog pet costumes, and bumblebee pet costumes.
Take Part in the Village Halloween Parade
If you are spending your Halloween or the preceding days at the New Your City, we invite you to join the yearly Village Halloween Parade. Each year, the Greenwich Village welcomes over 50,000 zombies, ghouls, witches, monsters, and other characters in what is widely described as one of the best Halloween events around. It is always an exciting night of costume display, and you can rest assured of creative entertainment. The 49th Parade with the theme “Freedom” is slated for Monday, October 31, 2022, by 7 pm.
Popular Decoration Ideas for Halloween
Carve or Paint Pumpkin
Carved or painted pumpkins are typical outdoor and indoor Halloween decorations. If you cannot carve your pumpkin or you do not like carving pumpkins, you can paint them with funny faces instead.
You can plan a spooky scene for your outdoor space with your family. It allows everyone to spend time together while doing something fun, plus the process is suitable for all ages. You can create a haunted cemetery or dark forest to scare the trick-or-treaters.
DIY Your Wreath
The circle is a symbol that often denotes endlessness and eternity. When you hang wreaths on your doors as a Halloween decoration, it is believed you are warding off evil spirits and inviting good spirits. You also get to experience the fun of preparing these wreaths if you decide to DIY unique designs that reflect your holiday theme.
Go Batty with Wall Decoration
Bats are somewhat scary, but you can make something as fabulous as bat-shaped paper cutouts to decorate those blank walls in your indoor space.
Orange and Black Decorations
You will find tons of orange and black decorations at Halloween. This is because Halloween occurs between the fall and winter seasons. Orange represents the warmth and coziness of the fall, while black indicates the dark and cold winter days.
Winter is coming. As the temperatures drop, and you pull out your jackets and sweaters, it’s time to start preparing for Halloween. Halloween promises a lot of joy and entertainment between getting creative with your costumes, gallivanting around in the dark amid new friends, and joining fellow treat-or-trickers to retrieve the best candy from neighbors.