Halloween is truly a fun time of year for both children as well as adults. Other European countries, such as England, France, and Germany have also seen increases in the popularity of celebrating Halloween, although the holiday is nowhere near as popular as it is in the United States and Canada.
In Ireland, where Halloween originated, the day is still celebrated much as it is in the United States. In rural areas, bonfires are lit as they were in the days of the Celts, and all over the country, children get dressed up in costumes and spend the evening “trick-or-treating” in their neighborhoods.
Many Americans celebrate the traditions of Halloween by dressing in costumes and telling tales of witches and ghosts. Pumpkins are carved into glowering jack-o'-lanterns. Children parade from house to house, knocking on doors and calling out "Trick or treat!" hoping to have their bags filled with candy.
Pumpkins and Jack O’ Lanterns
The Irish brought the tradition of carving pumpkins into Jack O'Lantern to America. But, the original Jack O'Lantern was not a pumpkin. Pumpkins did not exist in Ireland. Ancient Celtic cultures in Ireland carved turnips on All Hallow's Eve, and placed an ember in them, to ward off evil spirits.
Pumpkins are believed to have originated in North America. Seeds from related plants have been found in Mexico dating back to 7000 to 5500 B.C.
References to pumpkins date back many centuries. The name pumpkin originated from the Greek word for "large melon" which is "pepon." "Pepon" was changed by the French into "pompon." The English changed "pompon" to "Pumpion." American colonists changed "pumpion" into "pumpkin."
Native American Indians used pumpkin as a staple in their diets centuries before the pilgrims landed. They also dried strips of pumpkin and wove them into mats. Indians would also roast long strips of pumpkin on the open fire and eat them. When white settlers arrived, they saw the pumpkins grown by the Indians and pumpkin soon became a staple in their diets. As today, early settlers used them in a wide variety of recipes from desserts to stews and soups. The origin of pumpkin pie is thought to have occurred when the colonists sliced off the pumpkin top, removed the seeds, and then filled it with milk, spices and honey. The pumpkin was then baked in the hot ashes of a dying fire.
People have been making jack-o-lanterns at Halloween for centuries. The practice originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed "Stingy Jack." According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn't want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul. The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree's bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years.
Soon after, Jack died. As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell. He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with it ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as "Jack of the Lantern," and then, simply "Jack O'Lantern."
In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack’s lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits. In England, large beets are used. Immigrants from these countries brought the jack o’lantern tradition with them when they came to the United States. They soon found that pumpkins, a fruit native to America, make perfect jack o’lanterns.
While I don’t remember Halloween as a child myself, I do remember celebrating every year with my son, Matthew and now my granddaughter.
When Matthew was young he would dress up in some of his favorite superhero costumes, his favorite being batman (if I was organized with my pictures I could share this). Lucy is continuing this tradition by also dressing as a super hero, this year she will be Wonder Woman.
We live in a townhouse community so it was a prime space for trick or treating. All of the kids and Moms would come over to my house and we would order large pizza pies and the Moms would have a glass of wine while the kids were drinking cider. When everyone was finished, we would all go out into the neighborhood and follow the children around as they collected their “loot”. When they were all tired out and the front lights were turned off we would all go our separate ways home. Then came the sorting, taking the pillow case and dumping it on the table; disposing of the open and loose candy, collecting the pennies and hiding everything else in a bowl.
Later, as Matthew got older, he still trick or treated with his friends just now the Moms wouldn’t go with them. Today, Matthew and his friends come and sit on my deck remembering those good times and carving their own Jack O’ Lantern.