Nature Bulletin No. 653-A October 28, 1961
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation
Allhallow's Even or Halloween, as we now call it, is the evening before
All Saints' or Allhallows' Day on November 1st. Under a thin crust of
Christianity the name conceals a much older pagan festival of the dead -
- a night when ghosts, witches, fairies and hobgoblins of every sort were
on the move. Then the country folk watched for spirits that crept hungry
and shivering to their former firesides. Suddenly, lines of sparks march
across the soot of the dying fire and the purring cat leaps up and hisses -
- sure signs that spooks are around.
Halloween traces back to the prehistoric Celtic inhabitants, or Druids,
of western Europe. Its celebration has survived longest in Ireland,
Scotland, Wales and England, as well as among the descendants of their
people in America. Halloween and May Day -- six months apart -- were
the turning points of the year for these pastoral people of olden times.
May Day saw the onset of lush pastures for their cattle. Halloween, with
the harvest gathered and the fields bare, marked the end of the old year
and the beginning of the new. In ancient Ireland a new fire was kindled
on Halloween, or the Eve of Samhain, and from this sacred flame all the
fires in the land were rekindled.
ages among these Celtic peoples, Halloween was the time when
great bonfires were built on the hilltops to scare away evil spirits. In
Wales and the Highlands of Scotland this custom has lasted into
modern times with family groups competing to have the largest blaze.
Perhaps the custom of trick-or-treat started with boys that went from
door to door in the villages begging a block of peat or other fuel for
their fires. To ward off evil, these boys would run through the smoke or
lie on the ground and let it roll over them. Modern youngsters merely
make a wish and jump over a lighted candle. Sometimes, after the
bonfire had burned itself out, the ashes were raked into a circle. Then
each person marked a small stone and tossed it in the ring. In the
morning if anybody's stone had disappeared or was broken it meant that
he or she was fey -- and would not live to see another Halloween.
In the Old Country, for generations, youngsters have made their
Halloween jack-o'-lantern out of a large turnip, such as a rutabaga -- or
a mangle-wurzel, a large kind of beet. Cut into upper and lower halves,
each was carefully hollowed out and holes punched to refasten the
halves together with string. Holes for the eyes, nose and mouth were
carved and a stub of candle placed inside. After dark this fiery face is
popped around a corner to frighten people or hung on a pole to hold to
upstairs windows. The first European immigrants to America found the
Indians growing large bright yellow or orange pumpkins. To make a
fine jack-o'-lantern it was only necessary to slice off a lid, scrape out the
seeds, carve a face and put in a candle.
More and more, Halloween is becoming a harvest festival and a time
for gay parties at which special Halloween games are played. It is not as
gloomy and fearsome as in times past. In addition to black cut-outs of
angry cats, staring owls and witches riding twig brooms, we decorate
our homes and schoolrooms with Indian corn and bright autumn leaves,
as well as pumpkins. We bob for apples in a tub of water and drink
golden cider fresh from the press.
Throughout Halloween-country, both here and abroad, children seem to
have an inborn urge to disguise themselves with masks and fancy
costumes. For generations many merely smeared their faces with soot or
paint and wore their clothes back-to-front or inside-out. Perhaps this
dates back to the blue-painted Druids who, according to Julius Caesar,
burned their victims in wicker cages.
Have fun !
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Update: June 2012