We all know what to expect when October 31 approaches: spider webs in shop windows, scary pumpkins and lots of people dressed up as things that, let’s face it, are scary. Halloween is a worldwide phenomenon that, although it has more impact in the United States, is becoming more and more relevant internationally. For this reason and because we love these dates, we bring you 5 things you must know about Halloween:
1. THE ORIGIN OF THE NAME HALLOWEEN
The name Halloweeen is a derivative of “All Hallow Eve”. This is due to the fact that November 1st is considered by the Catholic tradition as “All Saints’ Day”. In turn, it arises as an adaptation by the Catholic Church of a Celtic tradition called Samhain.
2. ORIGIN OF THE FESTIVITY
The origin of this festivity is older than one might think. It is true that, as it is currently developed, it is a relatively new celebration. However, it stems from a tradition of the Celtic peoples known as Samhain, which translates as the “end of summer”. For the Celts, October 31 marked the beginning of the coldest time of the year. Precisely for this reason their calendar marked this date as the end of one year and the beginning of the next. In addition, it was considered that, at the beginning of the coldest stage, the barrier between the world of the living and the dead was blurred. To guide the lost souls, the Celts placed lanterns to guide them and offered them food.
When Rome conquered the Celtic peoples, the tradition was adapted and began to relate to the Roman goddess Pamona, goddess of fruit and crops. However, when Christianity became the sole religion of the Roman Empire, this holiday was changed. To this end, All Saints’ Day, which up to that time was celebrated on May 13, was changed to November 1, as it is today.
It is worth remembering that Halloween, from its origin to the present day, has been changing and adapting to become the international event it is today. Fed by legends and spread through American culture, Halloween is, today, more international than ever.
3. HALLOWEEN PUMPKINS
Originally the Celts emptied turnips and decorated them as lanterns. In order for them to emit light, embers were placed inside them.
When the tradition was exported to the United States, it had to be adapted to the circumstances by replacing the turnips (abundant in Ireland) with pumpkins, whose production was much more abundant.
4. WHY MAKE LANTERNS WITH PUMPKINS?
Using pumpkins as lanterns is the result of the sum of the Samhain tradition and the legend of “Jack of the Lantern”. This legend tells that there was a wicked and greedy farmer who swindled several of his neighbors. One October 31, Jack decided to go drinking with the devil. Being really stingy, he resisted paying what he owed and tried to convince the evil one to become a coin. He finally convinced him and, once transformed, Jack put it in his pocket along with a silver cross to prevent the devil from regaining his normal form. The farmer released the devil on the condition that he would not return for his soul when he died, which they agreed would happen in a year’s time. Subsequently the farmer tricked the devil again by convincing him to climb a tree to pick fruit. When the devil did so Jack carved a cross into the bark, preventing him from climbing down the tree until he promised to let the farmer live 10 more years and not return for his soul when he died.
When Jack passed away, the devil kept his promise and did not take the farmer’s soul, which was also not fit to go to heaven. So Jack, condemned to wander eternally, only received some embers to light his way and he put them in a turnip that ended up playing the role of a lantern.
Later, people adapted the legend and began to decorate pumpkins in a terrifying way.
5. DRESSING UP ON HALLOWEEN
It is interesting to note how the tradition of dressing up in a terrifying way has been present since the beginning of the celebration. It all goes back to the aforementioned Samhain, a tradition that celebrated the end of the heat and the beginning of the cold. On these dates the Celts considered that the barrier between the world of the living and the dead vanished. Therefore, the souls of the dead could meet their loved ones. However, there was a problem: the souls of evil spirits also roamed the land of the living. So to scare them away, they dressed up as beasts with animal skins and creepy masks.
As you can see, Halloween is an important holiday in American culture. However, it retains strong roots in Celtic tradition that have been adapted without changing radically. We don’t think the Celts dressed up as a dancing skeleton or a vampire with purple highlights, but these costumes pursue the same goal: to scare away evil spirits and have a great time.