Like every year, this October 31st, people will be celebrating the “all hallows eve” (the night before All Saints’ Day), as it was originally called. Many legends surround this frightening event, which has now become very popular both among adults and children around the world, but you might be interested in discovering five curious facts, from the past and the present, associated with the witches’ night.
1) The feast of Halloween – originally European, not American.
The feast of the dead began in the Keltic lands of northern Europe.
Under the name of Samhain, that is “end of summer”, the Kelts used to celebrate the last harvest of the year and began to get ready for the cold winter season, when many would, unfortunately, die. The deceased were remembered by nighttime feasting, in the hope that they could be born again when the good season came back.
2) Why are hollowed out pumpkins used? The legend of Jack O’ Lantern.
Legend has it that Stingy Jack, a clever, heavy-drinking Irish smith, managed to deceive the devil into promising that he would never steal his soul. When he died, Jack, who had sinned too heavily in life to enter heaven but had been driven out of hell by the devil, was condemned to eternal wandering. To find his way in the dark, it seems he used a carved out turnip, lighted inside by a brand from hell. Then, when the Irish exported the myth of Jack O’ Lantern to America, they replaced the turnips with the famous Halloween pumpkins, carved out and lit from the inside with a candle, since they were easier to find and less expensive.
3) Halloween Costumes: the tradition of disguise in order to deceive ghosts.
During the revels of Samhain, souls were supposed to come back to earth and wander among the living. This is why people, when leaving their homes, used to dress themselves up wearing scary disguises, so as not to be recognised. So, every kind of disguise is welcome, as long as it has to do with the frightening world of the dead, of monsters and witches.
4) The most famous Halloween game: trick or treat?
Trick or treat? The classic Halloween game dates back to the pilgrimages of the first Christians who in the ninth century used to go from house to house asking for the typical sweet “soul bread”, and in exchange offered their prayers for the deceased of the family. This practice has evolved, and today children all over the world, wearing terrifying masks, go from house to house scaring their neighbours and demanding sweets. Should the treat not be up to their expectations, children can play their trick: these are normally harmless jokes, for example hiding laundry which has been put out, taking the nameplates off mailboxes or simply ringing the doorbell and then hiding… just what mischievous fairies would do.
So this is what those words you all know – trick or treat! – mean.
And how are you going to spend the night of witches and ghosts? We are already getting ready…