The Pumpkin, Black Cats & the 31st October

Growing up in a strong Christian household, there were a few activities that rolled around every year that I was never allowed to take part in.  Halloween was one and every year I would ask in vain if I could go out with kids next door and ‘trick or treat’.

No.

Completely frustrated with tears rolling down my cheeks, I would change into my boring old jammies instead of a beautiful fairy princess costume and mull over all the unfairness in the world.

As an adult, I now understand and am kinda grateful that I wasn’t allowed to celebrate this evening because when you get down to the basic storyline of Halloween, it is not for the faint-hearted.

Halloween or All Hallows’ Eve first appeared in Ireland, Scotland and England around the mid 1500’s.  Then known as the Festival of Samhain, it was celebrated by the Druids at the end of summer.  Samhain was the lord of the dead and on the evening of the 31st October, he would release all the wicked souls that had spent the year previous trapped in the bodies of animals.  They then were freed to roam the cities as spirits, ghosts, fairies, witches and elves to return to the homes where they had once lived when human.

The unfortunate current tenants of these houses were to leave out food to appease these damned souls and if you didn’t, these evil visitors would put a curse (trick) on you.  This is where the dressing up in costumes and the term ‘trick or treat’ comes from.  Yikes!

The Jack ‘o’ Lantern has always been a popular symbol of the American Halloween.  The story behind this is about a dead fella named Jack who was condemned to walk about in the darkness with his lantern neither allowed to go to heaven or hell until Judgement Day.  Back in the day, turnips were collected up and scary faces carved into them.  Placed along the front of your house, they were supposed to scare Jack away if he happened to come wandering past.  The use of the Pumpkin was introduced around the 1800’s.

Heading back to the Druids, it was they who feared coming across the path of a black cat.  They believed the cat was the soul of an evil person on the prowl.  To help keep the evil felines away from their homes, the Druids would decorate their abodes with the likenesses of witches and ghosts.

For the Celts and Anglo-Saxons, the 31st of October was their New Year.  They would hold their celebrations on hill tops, lighting huge bomb fires to scare off evil spirits and would make crop, animal and human scarifies to keep their world of light and dark in balance.

It’s always good to know what you are celebrating!

*image of black cat courtesy of http://www.hdwallpapers.in*
*image of Druid courtesy of http://nationalgeographicmagazine.tumblr.com*
*image of trick or treaters courtesy of http://easyday.snydle.com*

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