Happy Halloween! Time to get dressed up and have some ghoulish fun!
Halloween has been a part of our culture for a long time. Ever wonder where the crazy traditions came from? Let’s explore some of the history behind Halloween!
It’s had a few different names over the centuries. All Hallows Eve, All Halloween, All Saint’s Eve, and the oldest one- Samhain.
Samhain (pronounced “saw-wen” or “soo-wen”) was a Celtic celebration dating back to somewhere around 5-200 CE. Archaeologists found evidence of the rituals surrounding Samhain in the British Isles that date at least that far back.
The Celtic people took this day to stock up on supplies for the coming winter. For them, the day signified the end of summer and the harvest. It was also believed the spirits of the deceased walked among the living.
Bone fires were part of the celebrations. This was the origin of the term bonfire. It was a great big hot fire used to dispose of the bones from animals which had been slaughtered for winter.
The Celts also gathered together for food and drink. They set places for their deceased relatives,because they expected them to be present. That is a tradition which is present in many cultures around the world, not just for Halloween.
For instance, Mexico celebrates the Day of the Dead, China has Tomb Sweeping Day, and Korea has Chuseok. Each one of these holidays celebrates loved ones and ancestors.
The rituals surrounding Samhain were brought to the United States and Canada by people immigrating from Ireland during the 1845-1849 potato famine. Potatoes were the primary source of food for the people of Ireland. During this period, disease struck the crops and caused many to go hungry and opt to find a new place to live!
The descendants of the Celts from the British Isles brought their traditions with them, plus a few which had been added over the centuries.
One, which began around the 16th century, was going “souling.” This was the practice involving the poor people of a town or city going from door-to-door asking for a soul-cake.
A soul-cake is a small round cake similar to a scone, filled with currants or raisins, spiced with things like nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, and ginger. The image of a cross is cut into the top of the cake, signifying its use as alms (a gift for the poor.)
In return for the gift, the poor would pray for the families who provided them with the cake. This may have been the origin of trick-or-treating!
You can find a recipe for soul cakes below.
Another practice that had come about was carving the jack-o-lantern. The Irish immigrants would take turnips and carve faces into them and hollow them out. Then they would put a candle in them to light their way as they went out and about.
Pumpkins ended up becoming the favored veggie of choice for carving. Probably because a pumpkin is way easier to carve than a turnip is!
Why Carve a Face in a Vegetable?
This is a tradition straight out of Irish folklore. Here is the legend of Stingy Jack:
Once upon a time there was a clever man named Stingy Jack. He had a bit too much to drink one night and ended up meeting the devil. Well, Stingy Jack tricked the devil into banning him from hell.
Unfortunately, he was a pretty terrible human, so heaven didn’t want him either! Once he had died, his soul was forced to roam the Earth while carrying a small lantern made out of a turnip. A burning ember from hell was inside the lantern to light his way.
The belief was when people went out “souling” on the night when the separation between the living and dead was at its thinnest, carrying a similar lantern would protect them from the mischief makers like Stingy Jack!
Why Do People Wear Costumes?
People have dressed up and painted their faces for centuries on Halloween. It’s also something which has grown more and more elaborate through the years.
It goes back to that distance between the world of the living and the land of the dead, as well. People believed they could see their loved ones and friends who had died, but they also believed they could see people whom they’d not been very nice to. They would apply a “guise,” think dis-guise, to avoid unwanted encounters!
Origins of the Halloween Party
Way back in 1913, there was a lady named Elizabeth Krebs who lived in the town of Hiawatha, Kansas. She got tired of her garden, and the whole town, being vandalized on Halloween by mischievous children.
Mrs. Krebs had the idea to throw a party for the children wearing masks to see if that would give them a more creative and safe way to have fun.
She put together a costume themed party for the whole town, all by herself. It didn’t work out as well as hoped that year.
The next year, she got everyone in town involved. They got a band involved to play music, had a costume contest, a parade, and lots of food and dancing.
That year, people celebrated a Halloween without trouble and destruction. It was deemed a success, and Hiawatha still throws a big party every year!
Other Fun Halloween Traditions
Bobbing for apples was a way for young ladies to “divine” who their prospective husbands would be. Names would be written on apples and then the apples were dropped into a big bucket filled with water. Dunking into the water and managing to grab an apple in your mouth would foretell your future mate.
Black cats were thought to be bad luck! It was thought that witches could turn themselves into a black cat to avoid detection. Black cats were also thought to be the familiars of witches. Something that would aid the witches in casting spells and such.
Popular costumes like vampires and werewolves were all about change and transformation. Vampires could change themselves into bats or mist. Skeletons represented the bones of the dead. And werewolves transformed from people into beasts!
The change and transformation idea goes all the way back to the days of Samhain, and the celebrations of the season’s change.
Now you know a little about the origins of this spooky holiday! Pick out your favorite character, play dress up for the night, and have some fun! Or bake up a batch of soul cakes to enjoy the taste of the season. Here's an easy recipe you can try!
Bonus Recipe: Soul Cakes (Makes 12 small cakes)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 egg yolks, beaten
1/2 cup raisins
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Combine the flour, the nutmeg, cinnamon and salt in a small bowl. Mix well with a fork. Set aside.
Cream the butter and sugar together in a medium bowl with a wooden spoon (or use an electric mixer with the paddle attachment). Add the egg yolks and blend in thoroughly with the back of the spoon. Add the spiced flour and combine as thoroughly as possible; the mixture will be dry and crumbly.
One tablespoon at a time, begin adding in the milk, blending with the spoon. When you have a soft dough, stop adding milk; you probably won't need the entire half-cup. Fold in the raisins.
Turn the dough out onto a floured counter and knead gently, with floured hands, until the dough is uniform. Roll out gently to a thickness of 1/2 inch. Using a floured 2-inch round cookie or biscuit cutter, cut out as many rounds as you can and set on an ungreased baking sheet. You can gather and re-roll the scraps, gently.
If desired, cut an equal-armed cross into the top of each cake. Bake for 15 minutes, until just golden. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve warm.