When I was a kid, I loved Halloween, like capital L-oved it. It wasn’t just the dressing up, or the candy, it was the whole vibe of it. It was that for one night we were allowed to run wild like faeries, waiting for that veil between the living and the dead to come tumbling down with screaming banshees hot on our heels. Childhood me, always thought there was a banshee not far behind… a tad morbid I know. I blame my Gaelic roots on that one. After all, the history of Halloween lays deep in the Celtic lands.
And maybe the generations of spookiness in Ireland are what fueled my family’s love of Halloween and ghost stories. With All Hallow’s Eve only a day away, I thought that I’d take a break from Le Petit Village and tell you all about some of the creepy history that make up Halloween.
Pumpkin-mania hits the U.S. every fall, and part of the pumpkin fun is carving them into Jack O’Lanterns. But even Jack O’Lanterns have a creepy past… It all started with Stingy Jack. Stingy Jack asked the Devil to have a drink with him (as you do) and Stingy Jack being stingy, didn’t want to pay for his drink. (He didn’t have the nickname ‘Stingy’ for nothing). Somehow Jack convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that he could use to pay the tab, but as soon as the Devil did, Jack decided to keep the coin instead and he put it in his pocket next to a cross he carried. Since crosses work magic against evil, the Devil couldn’t switch back into his normal devil self. One day Jack got tired of carrying around a Devil coin in his pocket, so he told him he’d free him but only if the Devil wouldn’t bother him from one whole year.
The next year, somehow Jack tricked the Devil again (How gullible is the Devil by the way???). This time into climbing a tree to pick some fruit. While the Devil was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the bark so that the Devil couldn’t come down. Jack made the Devil promise him that he would leave him alone for another ten years.
And then Jack died. Since there was no-way-jose the good Lord was letting Stingy Jack into heaven, he passed him along to the Devil, but the Devil didn’t want him either, so he sent Jack off into the dark night to roam about for eternity. But being not entirely uncool, the Devil gave Jack a bit of burning coal so he could see. Fashioning a makeshift lantern, Jack put the coal into a carved-out pumpkin and that’s how his name changed from ‘Stingy Jack’ to ‘Jack of the Lantern’, and eventually to, Jack O’Lantern. (He is Irish after all).
Then there’s the whole fun of dressing up and going door to door looking for treats, that has a wicked history too… Way back in the day, winter was scary. The days were short and the dark nights long with hardly the means to light them up. And on Halloween, the one day of the year when the spirits were free to come back and roam the earth, people were more than a little scared to go outside, but sometimes you just have to. Those that did have to venture out, took to donning masks in an attempt to trick the ghosts into thinking that they were fellow ghosts and goblins. So that’s where the dressing up came from. (I don’t know if this would work with some of the costumes you see today though… lingerie + mouse ears… hmmm…)
The treats part of it all comes from when people would place bowls of food outside their homes hoping that the ghosts would be happy with the offering and would leave them alone and not play any naughty tricks on them, you know like scaring the bejeezus out of them causing heart attacks and what not. And there you go… Trick or Treat. (But back in the day it was probably more like, Trick or Bowl of Porridge).