Hey there friends, I’m Yvonne Page Illustrates and this is Facts to Relax, the show where I research topics I find interesting and share everything I learn with you while we chill out, relax, and color a picture on the screen. With Halloween on the horizon I wanted to make an episode that explores the history, traditions, and mythology that surround this spooky holiday so that’s what we’ll be exploring today. If you want to color along with me while we learn all about Halloween, there’s a link in the description below to download the picture I’m coloring. So, let’s get started learning all about this creepiest of holidays.
First, let’s talk about how Halloween came to be. Where did it even get started? Well, the predecessor to Halloween was Samhain, a festival celebrated by ancient Celts living in mid-Europe about 2,000 years ago. Samhain was held on October 31 each year because the Celtic new year began on November 1st and they believed that as the years transitioned, the living and dead realms overlapped, allowing the dead access to earth again for just one night. As part of Samhain celebrations, people would dress up as demons in animal skins to scare away phantoms. They also left out tables of food to bribe bad spirits to leave them alone.
The Samhain tradition eventually evolved during the Middle Ages to include dressing up, not only as demons but also as ghosts and other terrible creatures and acting silly in front of each other in exchange for food. This custom was called “mumming.” As Christianity spread across Europe, these pagan traditions began to mix with Christian ones. Around 1000 AD Christianity began to celebrate “All Saints Day,” or “All Hallows’ Day” on November 1 and “All Soul’s Day” on November 2. The night before All Saints Day, October 31, was called “All Hallows’ Eve,” the same day as Samhain. All Hallows Eve was observed with bonfires, costumes and parades. All Hallows Eve is also where the name Halloween comes from. Can you hear the similarity? All Hallows Eve, Halloween…These three consecutive days were an opportunity for Christians to honor their dead. Their celebrations were very similar to the Samhain festivals except they included less demons and more saints and angels.
One All Soul’s tradition included “souling,” which was where poor people would walk around to rich people’s houses and promise to pray for them in exchange for little pastries called soul cakes. Soul cakes were similar in texture to biscuits or scones with dried fruit baked into them and a cross scored into their tops. I’ll include a link in the description below for a recipe for Soul Cakes in case you’d like to try making them yourself.
Eventually the souling tradition was taken over by children, who not only asked for soul cakes but also for other types of food, money, and ale. In Scotland and Ireland, kids began to stop offering to pray for the dead and instead dressed up in costumes and offered to tell jokes, recite poems, and perform tricks in exchange for their treats. And as Irish and Scottish immigrants made their way to the United States, they brought these traditions with them. The first documented reference to trick-or-treating in the United States is from 1911.
During the Great Depression in the 1930s, Halloween pranks often involved violence and vandalism. This led to more organized community-based trick or treating celebrations to try to curtail this bad behavior. The practice of trick or treating spread through the United States after World War II’s sugar rations were lifted and by the 1950s and 60s, trick-or-treating had become a tradition for millions of American children.
Despite Christianity’s involvement in the early growth of the holiday, many modern Evangelical Christians refuse to celebrate Halloween at all due to their belief that demonic spirits and curses are part of the traditions. This opposition began in the 1960s and 70s, as fears of devil-worship began to grow as pop culture normalized things like drugs, rock music, and sexual promiscuity. Popular televangelist of the time, Reverend Jerry Falwell preached against the holiday to large TV audiences, spreading the message to millions of Christians that boycotting Halloween was an important step in fighting against all the scourges of modern-day society. This along with mostly hoax stories of razor blades in apples and drugs in candy, along with a general societal fear of child abduction began to put a real damper on the holiday. In the late 1980s, a fear of satanism was fueled by television specials focusing on the subject, always airing right around Halloween. Televangelist Pat Robertson still preaches about Halloween being a day when millions of children celebrate Satan, keeping the evangelical fear of the holiday alive and strong. In response to this, many modern celebrations have been toned down to become “fall festivals” and the like instead, effectively taking the Halloween, well, out of Halloween.
That being said, now-a-days, Americans spend billions of dollars on candy to hand out to trick or treaters and for parties, making it the second largest commercial holiday after Christmas. Polls show that peanut butter cups are the favorite Halloween candy and 81% of parents admit to dipping into their kids’ supply for themselves.
Trick-or-Treating is celebrated in many different countries worldwide but with their own twists on traditions. In Canada, children sometimes say “Halloween apples” instead of trick or treat and in French-speaking areas, they may simply say “Halloween” or “La charite, si’il vous plait,” which means “Charity please” which is a strong callback to the early souling tradition. Swedish children go trick or treating on Maundy Thursday, which is the Thursday before Easter, in springtime instead of in autumn, but still dressed as witches and monsters. Portuguese children do their own version of souling on All Souls Day carrying lanterns. Even Japan has caught on a bit to the Western tradition, or at least the part about dressing up in costumes. And finally, rumor has it that the United Kingdom is so communally grouchy that upwards of 60% of people turn off their lights and refuse to participate in trick or treating at all, despite it being one of the areas where the traditions of souling and guising originated.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention el Dia de los Muertos or “The day of the dead” in English, a holiday celebrated in Mexico and some other Hispanic countries around the same time as Halloween. This celebration takes place over the course of three days, from October 31 through November 2, to honor dead ancestors. El Dia de los Muertos is not Mexican-Halloween though, despite the overlapping calendar. Instead of being a night of darkness, terror, and mischief like Halloween is, el Dia de los Muertos demonstrates love and respect for the deceased and is filled with bright colors, flowers, and joy. This celebration was started by the Aztecs, Toltec, and other Nahua people long before colonization. They believed mourning the dead was disrespectful and that during el Dia de los Muertos, spirits temporarily returned to earth and the living were ready to welcome them. The celebration was originally a month long but in the 16th century, Spanish conquistadors merged the festival with All Saints Day, creating the mix of skulls, altars to the dead, food, church, and prayer that marks the holiday as we know it today. One notable difference between el Dia de los Muertos and Halloween is that the Mexican holiday skips out completely on trick or treating.
But Trick-or-Treating isn’t the only thing that we think of when we talk about Halloween anyways. This is a holiday that conjures up images of witches, ghosts, graveyards, haunted houses, evil spirits, jack-o-lanterns, and scary stories so let’s talk a little bit about how some of those things came to be associated with the holiday. Since both Samhain and the Christian holidays were centered around spirits, it makes sense that ghosts, goblins, zombies, mummies, etc would all eventually become part of Halloween as well. Graveyards, as the place where the dead are buried, seem another obvious central figure in a holiday focused on death. But what about witches? How did they get involved?
Samhain was an important holiday for witches right from the start. As pagans, they celebrated and still continue to celebrate Samhain as a time when their god, who is reborn each year in midwinter around Yule time, dies-or rather he’s sacrificed in order to ensure crop fertility and overall well-being for the community over the coming year. During the middle ages, right around the same time All Hallows Eve and Samheim began to get mixed together, witches started getting a bad name. Prior to this, they were seen as just quirky ladies who used herbs and magic to heal people. But around this time the Christian church began to peg them as evil heathens who fraternized with the devil. This appears to simply be because witches were pagans and the church at the time was doing everything they could to discredit paganism as to promote the spread of Christianity instead. Since witches do most of their magic at night, it was easy to connect them with darkness, evil, mischief, and the devil, leading to the current, darker relationship most people associate between witches and Halloween.
People have always loved to tell scary stories and it makes sense that a holiday surrounding death and spirits would be the perfect time for such tales. In fact, the invention of Jack-o’-lanterns came from one particular Irish folk tale about a man called “Stingy Jack.” Stingy Jack was a mean and miserable man whose favorite pastime was playing tricks on people, any and everyone he could. One day he even played a trick on the devil himself by convincing him to climb up a tree and then, once he was up there, placing a bunch of crosses around the base of the tree. Since the devil is said to be repelled by crosses, he was effectively stuck in the tree and at Jack’s mercy. Now Stingy Jack, being quite the trickster, knew that he would be heading to hell after his death so he tricked the devil into the tree just so that he could trap him up there until the devil promised not to take Jack’s soul to hell when he died. The devil eventually consented and he was let down. True to his word, the devil didn’t take Jack’s soul when he died. Instead, Stingy Jack ascended to heaven where Saint Peter promptly refused to let him past the pearly gates and sent him back down to hell instead. The devil, as per their agreement however, refused to take him there either, so instead Stingy Jack’s soul was destined to spend eternity wandering around the earth between heaven and hell, with just an ember from the flames of hell to light his way. Now Jack happened to have died with a turnip in his pocket so he carved it hollow and put the ember inside of it in, and to this day, he’s said to be using the turnip-flashlight to light his way through the earth at night. This was the first “Jack-O’-Lantern” and because of this tale, the Irish started carving scary faces into turnips, rutabagas, gourds, potatoes, and beets on All Hallow’s Eve and lighting them with embers to ward off evil spirits. This was one of the Halloween traditions they brought with them to the United States, where they found pumpkins to be a larger and easier to carve autumn vegetable than what they’d had in Europe.
So there you have it, some interesting facts about Halloween and the traditions surrounding it. Do you celebrate it where you live? Do you love it or hate it? What’s the best Halloween costume you’ve ever worn? Do you believe in any of the myths and magic surrounding the holiday? Share your thoughts in the comments below and if you liked this video, please hit the thumbs up button and subscribe to this channel if you want to come back and learn and relax with me again. Thanks for stopping by and learning all about Halloween with me. Hopefully this new knowledge can help you have a spooky holiday. I’ll see you back here soon. Bye.
❁❁ SOURCES & RESOURCES ❁❁
- Celts: https://www.ancient.eu/celt/
- Soul Cake Recipe: https://www.lavenderandlovage.com/2013/11/saturday-bakes-cakes-all-souls-day-and-a-traditional-soul-cakes-recipe.html
- Trick or treating history: https://www.history.com/news/halloween-trick-or-treating-origins