By Joe Montgomery
Starting the first day of October, Halloween begins to creep out of attic spaces and storage rooms and starts decorating houses in orange and black. Jack-o’-lanterns sit on front porches, spider webs drape shrubbery and ghosts and ghouls add a frightening face to the décor. Candy flies off supermarket shelves and costumes disguise the average Joe. It is one of the most popular holidays in America, but have you ever wondered where it originated?
In Celtic Ireland 2,000 years ago, Nov. 1 was the first day of the new year. On Oct. 31, known as “All Hollows Eve,” or what the Celts called Samhain, people believed the souls of the dead could gain entrance into the land of the living. So on this night, spirits wandered the lands searching for bodies to enter and use as their vessels for the new year.
To prevent these spirits from visiting and capturing the living, frightened people built bon fires and carried out parades dressed as monsters and goons in an attempt to ward off hunting souls.
These souls could not capture a body if it was within its home, so people would put on masks before stepping out the door. These masks would confuse the souls into thinking the person was only a fellow spirit in wandering.
In the early 1900s, the Irish brought the tradition of “All Hollows Eve” with them when they migrated to America. Along with that tradition, which would soon become Halloween, was the custom of jack o ‘lanterns.
The jack-o’-lantern custom was based on an old Irish fable about a trickster named Jack, who tricked the devil into climbing a tree. Once he climbed, Jack drew a cross on the trunk of the tree, for ever trapping the devil.
When Jack died, heaven would not accept him for the bad things he had done, and hell wouldn’t take him because of the trick he played on the devil.
So Jack’s soul was forever trapped in the darkness of the earth. But he was afraid of the dark, so the devil gave him a single ember to light his way, which Jack put in a turnip.
It wasn’t until the Irish came to America, where pumpkins are lush, that they start putting candles in them rather than turnips.
Halloween, as we celebrate it today, didn’t begin until 1921. Citizens of Anoka, Minn. were the first to celebrate Halloween. Its citizens had two parades, a Pumpkin Bowl and a dance. The next year Allentown, Pa. and New York City joined in the festivities. By the 1960s, nearly 95 percent of the country celebrated Halloween, and we carry on the frightening holiday to this day.