Halloween. Contemporarily associated with trick-or-treating and dressing up in outrageous costumes, Halloween actually has an interesting beginning based on religion or superstitions, depending on where you stand. We sieved through the cobwebs of history to bring you the four things you should know before you go trick-or-treating!
The camp is split two ways on this count. Some have traced it back to the ancient pagan Celtic harvest festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in), where people wore costumes and lit bonfires to ward off roaming ghosts. Yet others have linked it back to All Hallows’ Eve, the day before the celebration of All Saints’ Day (1 November) and All Souls’ Day (2 November), which are both Christian commemorations of all saints, martyrs, and souls of the faithful departed. Over time, All Hallows’ Eve or Hallow e’en (meaning evening) became Halloween.
2. Jack the pumpkin was originally Jack the turnip
Nowadays, Jack-o’-lanterns are signs that Halloween is around the corner. But if you trip back in time to the Middle Ages for All-Souls Day, good ol’ Jack was more than just lawn decoration. He wasn’t even a pumpkin.
Traditionally, lanterns were carved out of turnips, as a way of remembering the souls held in purgatory on All Souls Day. But the Scottish and Irish immigrants in North America used pumpkins instead, since that’s more readily available. Being significantly bigger and softer, and thus easier to carve, the pumpkin became what it is today – the Halloween icon (sorry turnip).
3. Trick-or-treating was not all fun and games
This practice – also known as a mild form of harassment from kids – originated from the practice of souling during All Souls Day in the Middle Ages. The poor went door-to-door and offered prayers for the dead in return for special cakes called Soul Cakes.
Often simply called “souls”, there are many varieties in existence but the simplest forms are round cakes made from flour, sugar, and spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. Traditionally they are made with whatever flour that is locally available. You can be adventurous and try making some of your own this Halloween.
4. Spooky games
Today, the courageous among us may fool around with an Ouija board at an old abandoned building (definitely not recommended). But when we looked at some spooky games of old, we wonder if we’re missing out on some fun.
An example is a Scottish game which was traditionally a form of divination. What you’ll need to do is peel an apple in one long strip, toss the strip over your shoulders, and hope for the best; the peel should land in the shape of the first letter of your future spouse’s name.
Daring single ladies who want a glimpse of their future husbands can also try this: sit in a dark room on Halloween night and gaze into a mirror. If you’re lucky, you see the face of your future husband. If you’re unlucky you’ll see a skull – which means you’ll die before you marry. Personally, we think that seeing something else other than your reflection in the mirror is scary enough.
This Halloween, give turnip carving a try, bake a souling cake (Google for the recipe) or peel an apple strip.