Halloween traditions have deep roots
October 27, 2005
Carving a face into a pumpkin then putting a candle inside is weird. And it’s just one of the Halloween traditions that isn’t really spooky, but maybe a little creepy.
But they’re not as random as they seem. The jack-o-lantern has it origins in Celtic folklore.
According to the tale, Jack was an Irishman in the 18th century, known for his mischievousness.
In one of his pranks, he tricked the devil into climbing an apple tree, then Jack carved a Holy Cross into the trunk, trapping Satan in the branches.
When Jack died, he was refused admission into heaven because of his antics. The devil, still holding a grudge, wouldn’t let Jack into hell.
However, the devil did give Jack a single glowing ember, which he placed inside a hollowed out turnip he’d been eating.
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As he wandered the earth, he carried the turnip with the ember inside and became known as “Jack of the lantern” or Jack o’ Lantern.
After immigrating to the United States, the Irish modified the tradition from turnips to pumpkins, which were more plentiful.
Asking strangers for candy didn’t suddenly appear, either.
As part of All Souls Day, ninth century European Christians would go from village to village begging soul cakes, or currant cakes. In return, they pledged to pray for the souls of the homeowner’s dead relatives, thus hastening their passage from limbo into heaven.
Bobbing for apples was probably born from a custom where unmarried people would attempt to take a bite out of an apple bobbing in a pail of water, or suspended on a string. The first person to do so was believed to be the next to marry.
As for dressing up, the Celts believed the veil between the dead and living to be its thinnest this time of year.
Sometimes the ghosts would return and inhabit living creatures, mostly black cats.
And, just to be safe, the people donned ghoulish costumes to scare away the dead and keep them from possessing their bodies, all of which can seem silly from our perspective.
Unless … Well, let’s just be sure we all have costumes by Monday, lest we prove the Celts correct.