By Olivia Klostermann
The origins of Spooky, Scary Skeletons:
Contrary to what pop culture might lead you to believe, Halloween was not originally an American holiday. Instead, Halloween has its origins in Samhain, a festival celebrated by the Ancient Celts of Ireland. Samhain marked the midpoint between the Autumn Equinox (usually in mid-September when in the North Hemisphere) and the Winter Solstice (usually in mid-December in the Northern Hemisphere). This Ancient tradition was believed to breach the barrier between the physical world of humans and the spiritual world of the ancestors and fairies. To prevent themselves from being abducted by spirits and fairies, the Celts would dress as monsters in order to appear scary and unappealing. After the Celts exited the danger zone, they would celebrate by praying with the Druids (the spiritual leaders of Celtic society) and lighting bonfires.
The first major evolution: Trick-or-Treat?
Now we’re off to England and Ireland in the 10th century BC, where the tradition of trick-or-treating first started to emerge. This however was not the fun, customised and highly-commercialised activity which is partaken by
little children today. Instead, on All Saints’ Day/All Souls’ Day, a tradition was created where the poor would visit the houses of the wealthy and given pastries called Soul Cakes. These were received by the poor in return for the promise of a prayer for the ancestors of the wealthy. Not a bad trade if you ask me!
Later, this tradition evolved to include the children of less fortunate families. These children would visit the houses of the wealthy asking for food and money. It was not until the early 20th century that trick-or-treating came to involve dressing up and flocks of young children begging for a sugar-rush.
Ever heard of Jacko-lanterns?
Maybe not, but I’m sure you’ve seen one of these at some point in your life:
Well, this interesting and quite strange Halloween decoration comes from the 19th-century Irish myth about “Stingy Jack”: a man who tricked the devil.
The story goes:
Jack invited the Devil out for a drink, and of course, the Devil, being ever so gracious, accepted the invite. Whilst they were out, both Jack and the Devil realised they couldn’t pay for their drinks. So, Jack convinced the Devil to turn into a silver coin as their payment, however, after the Devil obliged, Jack put the silver coin in his pocket. This prevented the Devil from transforming back into his original form. Jack’s clever trick forced the Devil to negotiate his way out of his unfavourable position. And so, Jack and the Devil struck a deal that, if Jack released the Devil, the Devil could not capture Jack’s soul for at least a year after his death, to give God more opportunity to accept Jack into Heaven. Unfortunately for him, Jack’s plan didn’t work out quite as expected. After he died, God refused to let Jack into Heaven due to his deviousness, and the Devil was still upset about being tricked, and so, Jack has been forced to wander the earth as a lost soul ever since, with only a carved turnip and a burning coal to light his way.
This myth became popular in Ireland, causing people to use carved pumpkins and turnips to scare away evil spirits and Stingy Jack from playing any tricks on them.
What about some other popular traditions today?
Mischief is definitely something that comes to mind when I think of Halloween. This tradition began in the mid-19th century, and grew in popularity in America. When a large population of Irish people migrated to America due to the Irish Potato Famine, pranks associated with Halloween were brought across the seas as well. These became particularly prevalent amongst America’s southern colonies. Common pranks
back then tended to be pretty harmless, including things like uprooting vegetables and hiding farmers’ wagons.
It was only later, in the late 20th century, that Halloween pranks grew in violence and destruction, with ideas of fun including vandalism and putting needles into kids’ lollies.
Finally, what type of article would this be if I didn’t discuss the evolution of Halloween in Australia?
First celebrated in Victoria during October of 1858, Irish immigrants once again allowed Halloween to traverse the world when fleeing from the Irish Potato Famine. Whilst it started as a small tradition, contained to Irish immigrants, it did grow in popularity, and Halloween Balls were held in various areas of Australia including Mudgee, Alice Springs, Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, Lithgow and Perth. These masked Balls allowed people the excuse for a dress-up competition, with the best-costume award recipient commonly receiving a money prize.
However, the more modern take on Halloween, that being a highly commercialised, money-making scheme, did not gain much popularity amongst Australians. That being said, when the internet became part of every-day life, and American culture slowly seeped its way into the idea of a seemingly idyllic lifestyle and culture, younger Australian generations pushed Halloween to be a more practised celebration.
Although, in even MORE recent years, Halloween has once again lost potency, not only due to COVID, but also because of the ever-increasing awareness of the dire state the planet has been thrown into due to consumerist schemes that promote excessive waste.