As winter drew near, the superstitious Celts were gripped by fear. If the gods were angry the sun might never shine again. With the prolonged hours of darkness the spirits of the dead were free to roam the earth. Against this background of dread a special celebration evolved some 2,000 years ago to protect and nourish.
In Celtic Britain winter lasted from 1st November to 30th April and summer arrived on 1st May. Officially the end of summer was on 31st October, which was the feast day to the lord of the dead, Samhain.
Fires were lit which not only helped to rid communities of rubbish but also symbolised the renewal of the earth and lured the dead away from the homes of the living.
Extra cattle and poultry which could not be fed over the winter months were slaughtered, providing food for all. Sheep were mated to provide next years stock.
At the peak of the festival, young boys would dip torches into the flames and then run around the village to ward off evil spirits.
The most macabre element of the Samhain celebrations was the sacrifices of humans and animals in a wicker cage. The Druids would divine the future by observing the victims’ flaying limbs and contorting body as they were thrown into the flames.
In the autumn, the Romans held a festival titled Ferialia, which was in honour of the recently deceased and the feast of Pomonia, a tribute to the goddess of fruit. Apples and nuts were also used in jocular games.
Over time, the Romans adopted this festival and combined it with the feast of Samhain.
Such powerful celebrations could no longer be disregarded by the church.
The elders decided against abolishing the centuries-old feast day. Instead they stole it! In 838AD All Saints’ Day was switched from 13th May to 1st November and so 31st October became All Hallows’ Eve (Hallows being another word for saints).
What about All Souls’ Day?
In 988 the church instituted 2nd November as All Souls’ Day and pagans were urged to say prayer for the dead instead of them. This meant that saints largely replaced the spectre of spirits. Despite this the habit of Hallowe’en still lingered on in Europe.
A writer in the 19th century, by the name of Sir James Frazier, described Hallowe’en as:
‘…the time of year when the souls of the departed were supposed to revisit their old homes in order to warm themselves by the fire and to comfort themselves with the good cheer provided for them in the kitchen or the parlour by their affectionate kinfolk. It was, perhaps, a natural thought that the approach of winter should drive the poor, shivering, hungry ghosts from the bare fields and the leafless woodlands to the shelter of the cottage with its familiar fireside ’.
This was the origin of the ‘trick or treat’ culture that went to America with the Irish and Scottish immigrants. At the time the aim was to dress as a spirit in order to win the food left out for the dead.
So what’s the pumpkin significance?
The legend of Jack the blacksmith states that he made a deal with the devil. The devil proposed that for seven years, Jack would be the best Smithy in the world. But in return he would have to give up his soul.
However, before the seven years were up, Jesus and St Peter arrived at the forge, offering Jack three wishes. To the visitor’s surprise, instead of asking for an entrance to Heaven, Jack required the power to keep someone in a pear tree for seven years. The second and third wishes were just as strange. He asked to have a victim confined to a chair and a purse for a similar amount of time.
When the Devil came for collection, Jack bribed him to climb the tree and sit on the chair and shrink into the purse until finally the evil spirit fled.
Jack eventually passed away. But due to him doing a deal with the Devil, St Peter rejected him. Because he conned the Devil, he was also rejected from Hell followed by a thrown lump of coal. As It was dark in limbo, where Jack was trapped, he hollowed out a turnip and put the coal inside as a makeshift lantern. From then, the turnip was gradually replaced by the pumpkin.
In : History
Tags: halloween jack o lantern spring heeled jack history truth
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