Happy Halloween, Panthers!
Halloween, as Americans know it, revolves mostly around costumes, trick-or
-treating, and carving pumpkins. Traditions always start somewhere, and today's modern Halloween is a blend of Native American and pagan (Irish and Scottish) origins.
"Celebrated on October 31, Halloween is an example of the way in which traditional pagan practices continued to be celebrated in the Christian Middle Ages. The ancient Celts celebrated the conclusion of the year at the end of October, which was called Samhain, or Summer's End. A feast held on November 1 was one of the four major agricultural feasts of the ancient cycle of feasts. It was the time, according to ancient custom, when supernatural beings, including the spirits of the dead, were believed to be active and had to be propitiated. These traditional celebrations were merged with the Christian feasts of All Saints on November 1, which, dating from the ninth century, had grown out of commemoration of the martyrs, and All Souls on November 2, which dated from the tenth century and was dedicated to prayers for the souls of the dead. The festival of November 1, All Saints, was known as All Hallows, and the night before as All Hallows Eve, or Hallow E'en. The bonfires lit that night were relics of the pagan past, as were those on Midsummer Eve, and it was traditional for masked children to go “souling,” that is, begging for soul cakes-a shortbread cookie-for the supernatural beings and threatening reprisals if they did not receive any." (from Cosman, Madeleine Pelner. Medieval Holidays and Festivals: A Calendar of Celebrations. New York: Academy of Science, 1981.)
It is now estimated that Americans spend over $6 million dollars at Halloween, making it the nation’s second largest commercial holiday.
The history of the Jack o’Lantern also begins in Ireland with a myth about a man named Stingy Jack. Legend states that Jack invited the Devil to share a drink and true to his name refused to pay. Upon convincing the Devil to turn himself into a coin, to pay for his drink, Stingy Jack decided to keep the money. Placing the coin in his pocket next to a silver cross Jack kept the Devil from returning to his original state. Stingy Jack eventually freed the Devil, but soon after tricked him into climbing a tree and then trapped him by carving a cross into its trunk. He extracted a promise from the Devil to leave him alone for ten years and to not claim his soul when Jack died. Soon after Stingy Jack passed away and due to his deal with the Devil and God’s refusal to allow a character such as Stingy Jack into Heaven he was sent on his way with a piece of coal to light the night. Jack placed the coal into a carved turnip and has been using it to roam the Earth since. In Ireland and Scotland people began carving faces into turnips and potatoes to scare away the ghost of Stingy Jack and other wandering spirits. Residents of England used large beets for the same purpose. However, upon arriving in America, they soon realized that the large pumpkins, used by Native American’s for purposes such as eating and woven mats, were the perfect substitute to continue the tradition to frighten away ghouls.
Want to learn more about the history of Halloween? Check out these books available in the FIU Libraries!
... and a contest!
Librarians & staff are participating in a book and literary-themed pumpkin decorating contest - and we need you to be the judge! Pass by Green Library or Hubert Library starting Wednesday, October 29 through Halloween day to view the entries and help us select a winner!
Visit go.fiu.edu/pumpkin to vote now!