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Tracy Garrett | Happy “All Hallows Eve”

October 31, 2008

Most everyone knows that Halloween, October 31, is the day before All Saints or All Hallows Day. But did you know that some of our modern traditions grew from the ancient Celts more than 2000 years ago? The Celtic festival of Samhain, or the Feast of the Dead, celebrates the day when summer ends and winter begins. It is believed to be the day when the dead revisit the mortal world.

Carving pumpkins—or jack-o-lanterns—dates from the 18th century, when a blacksmith named Jack consorted with the devil and was condemned to wander the earth as punishment. He begged the Devil for some light and was given a burning coal, which he placed inside a hollowed-out turnip. When the Irish came to the United States during the great potato famine, the practice of keeping a turnip with a candle in it in the window to ward off the Halloween demons came with them. Since pumpkins were easier to get here than turnips, the substitution was made and a new tradition was born and shared.

Wearing costumes also dates back to Celtic times. On Samhain night, when the living and the dead were at their closest, the Celtic Druids would dress up in elaborate costumes to disguise themselves as spirits and devils to avoid being carried away by the real thing at the end of the night. To this day, witches, goblins, and ghosts remain the most popular choices for the costumes. I’m not sure many demons would be frightened off by Iron Man or Hannah Montana.

And the masks? From earliest times people wore hideous masks when disasters struck, believing they would frighten away the demons that had brought the misfortune upon them.

So, when you venture out tonight to ring doorbells and threaten tricks to get treats, beware! The spirits of the past will be looking over your shoulder. I suggest you share your candy.

Tracy Garrett

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