By Faith and Anay
During this time of year, the first thing that would come to mind when thinking “activities” would be Halloween. Although Halloween is known for all fun, costumes, fright, and games, the holiday brings other topics to mind in other parts of the world. In the U.S., the holiday is known as a children’s holiday, reserved for candy eating and dressing up as fun things, ranging from horror movie characters to Disney princess; but what about the original traditions and customs people did back in the olden times?
Many different countries celebrate Halloween for things completely different things than trick-or-treating, and they take it to a whole different level. Many of the traditions and customs revolve around romance and young women finding their future husbands. In Scotland, it was a tradition for engaged couples to each put a nut in the fire. Then, the way the nuts responded to the fire would be how the future would go. If the nuts burned quietly, the marriage would be successful. However, if the nuts spat and hissed, the marriage would be rough and unpleasant.
In ancient times, the apple was viewed as a sacred fruit that could be used to predict the future. It was believed that the first person to pluck an apple from the water-filled bucket without using their hands would be the first to marry. If the bobber lucked out and caught an apple on the first try, it meant that they would experience true love, while those who got an apple after many tries would be fickle in their romantic endeavors. This led to the common activity of apple bobbing.
In olden times, it was believed that during Halloween, the veil between our world and the spirit world was thinnest, and that the ghosts of the deceased could mingle with the living. The superstition was that the visiting ghosts could disguise themselves in human form, such as a beggar, and knock on your door during Halloween asking for money or food. If you turned them away empty-handed, you risked receiving the wrath of the spirit and being cursed or haunted.
A common source of fear, spiders make for creepy, crawly Halloween staples. They join the ranks of bats and black cats in folklore as being evil companions of witches during medieval times. One superstition held that if a spider falls into a candle-lit lamp and is consumed by the flame, witches are nearby. And if you spot a spider on Halloween, goes another superstition, it means that the spirit of a deceased loved one is watching over you.
Medieval folklore also described bats as witches’ familiars, and seeing a bat on Halloween was considered to be quite an ominous sign. One myth was that if a bat was spotted flying around one’s house three times, it meant that someone in that house would soon die. Another myth was that if a bat flew into your house on Halloween, it was a sign that your house was haunted because ghosts had let the bat in.
A fun fall activity, carving Jack-o’-lanterns actually has its roots in a sinister, tragic fable. Celtic folklore tells the tale of a drunken farmer named Jack who tricked the devil, but his trickery resulted in him being turned away from both the gates of heaven and hell after he died. Having no choice but to wander around the darkness of purgatory, Jack made a lantern from a turnip and a burning lump of coal that the devil had tossed him from hell.
Jack, the story goes, used the lantern to guide his lost soul; as such, the Celts believed that placing Jack-o’-lanterns outside would help guide lost spirits home when they wander the streets on Halloween.
Throughout history, Halloween has been celebrated as both a happy and sad holiday. Straddling the line between fall and winter, plenty and paucity, life and death, Halloween has been a time of celebration and superstition. Over time, Halloween evolved into a secular, community-based event characterized by child-friendly activities such as trick-or-treating. In a number of countries around the world, as the days grow shorter and the nights get colder, people continue to usher in the winter season with gatherings, costumes and sweet treats. Though, don’t you ever wonder why Halloween was created and what secrets lie behind the creation of this candy-filled holiday?