When I was growing up, outside of Christmas, the other holiday I could hardly wait for was Halloween. It meant candy, sacks of it. Since I have the biggest sweet tooth known to man, trick-or-treating meant fun, foolish abandon, and sugary treats. I didn’t care what kind of candy it was, I liked it all. My younger sister and I would run wild, racing from house to house like a pair of hyped-up hyenas. I’m just glad that we grew up in an innocent time when no one had to worry much about child abductions or candy poisonings. Kids sure can’t be that carefree today.
As Halloween approached this year I was curious about the early beginnings of it and did some research. The name originated from All Hallows Eve that the Celts celebrated on October 31st to mark their new year. The Irish Celts believed spirits wandered the earth looking for bodies to possess on that night. Lacking knowledge of science or the rotation of the earth and different seasons, Celtic Culture sought a reason for the shorter, colder days and longer nights. They mistakenly thought the sun was losing its power and the dead were to blame. To prevent the spirits from stealing their bodies on Hallows Eve, they extinguished every fire in their homes, made themselves physically undesirable by making their faces grotesque, and wore all manner of strange clothing. The Celts believed that magical powers were at their strongest on October 31st.
When European immigrants came to America, they brought their customs and beliefs with them. Children gathered and played games. Bobbing for apples was played most frequently.
Other games were played, including one called “Clap-in, Clap-out.” The young men left the room, while the young girls each declared who they’d chosen for a partner. Then as the young men entered, he had to sit beside the girl he thought had chosen him. The girl clapped if he sat in the wrong seat. Then he had to go back out and wait for another chance to try again. The game lasted until every girl had a partner. Another game, played in Ireland was a form of Blindfold. A blindfolded player was seated in front of a table on which sat several saucers. The saucers were shuffled and the player chose one. The contents of the saucer determined the player’s life for the following year. The saucer containing earth meant someone known to the person would die during the coming months. Water foretold travel. A coin meant new wealth. A bean meant poverty. And so on. In 19th century Ireland, young women placed slugs in saucers and sprinkled flour over them. They believed the patterns left behind after the slug wriggled in it would reveal the face of their future husband. Boy, they must’ve been desperate! But, I should talk. I used to play with a Ouija board quite a bit, trying to find out who I was going to marry. Strange what we do to try to see into the future. I’m also thinking some of this might be useful in a story sometime.
A traditional food eaten in Ireland on All Hallows Eve was called barnbrack. It was a type of fruitcake that had a muslin-wrapped treat baked inside. The person who got the piece holding the treat learned his future for the coming year. Some of treats were a ring (meant a marriage,) a coin (prosperity,) a thimble (will be an old maid,) and a button spoke of forlorn sweethearts.
Over the years, Halloween has evolved into what we have today with many religions speaking out against the practice. Regardless, most kids still try to get as much candy as possible, no matter if it’s at Halloween parties or trick-or-treating. It’s their night to howl. Whatever your beliefs, you can still use this time to take stock, count your blessings, and prepare for the short winter nights. I love fall. The gorgeous color of the trees, the crisp night air, beautiful pumpkins, and luscious apples. Oh, and of course, the candy! I’m holding out my bag.
What do you associate with Halloween? Or maybe you have a favorite memory or tradition you’d like to share.