Traditional Halloween folklore and customs run deeper than the average trick-or-treat

By Johanna Harris

Boo! Are you scared? After all, Halloween is right around the corner, and it’s probably the creepiest season of the year. To many of you, Halloween most likely brings back memories of trick-or-treating in Star Wars costumes. Today it might mean packing up and road tripping to other schools like U of I, where the “real” fun is.

The history behind Halloween is simply fascinating, and just about every present day custom that is practiced can somehow be traced way back in time.

For instance, did you know that:

Halloween originates from a pre-Christian festival of the dead, celebrated by the Celts of England, Ireland and Scotland? This festival, named Samhain (Sah-ween) was to begin the new year, which for the Celts began on Nov. 1.

At this point, the souls of people who had died during the year traveled to the underworld. The townspeople would sacrifice animals, make offerings of fruits and vegetables and light massive bonfires in honor of the dead. The people hoped to help the dead on their way and keep them away from the living.

Present day trick-or-treating emerged from another Celtic practice called “mumming” or performing for food and drink? Since it was thought that the spirits of the dead were roaming around, food and drink were left out to appease them. As time passed, people began dressing up in macabre costumes and going from door to door, hoping to receive treats such as soul cakes for their antics.

The jack-o‘-lantern was originally a turnip instead of a pumpkin? According to Irish legend, a blacksmith named Jack agreed to sell his soul to the Devil in exchange for seven years of superior blacksmith work. However, through some wishes granted to him by Saint Peter, Jack was actually able to keep his freedom from the Devil.

Jack’s troubles were not over, though. When it came time for him to enter Heaven, he met Saint Peter at the gates. Since he had not wished for everlasting happiness in Heaven, he was not allowed in. The Devil wanted nothing to do with Jack either, and as the doors of Hell were closing up, Jack scooped up a burning coal and put it in the turnip he was eating. Until Judgement Day, Jack is forced to wander the earth, lighting the way with his “turnip-lantern.”

The cat, besides being a witch’s best friend, played another important part in Halloween superstition? If a cat just sits quietly beside a person, that person will have peace and prosperity. If the cat jumps into his lap, he will have very good luck. If the cat runs away from him, he has a secret that will be told in a week. Finally, if the cat merely yawns, the person has an opportunity in the future that must be attended to.

There are many romantic customs associated with this gruesome holiday as well? For instance, in England it was customary for a young girl to pare an apple all in one piece. After swinging the peel around her head three times she was to throw it over her left shoulder and it would supposedly form the initial of her sweetheart’s name on the floor.

The folklore and legends of Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve as some still refer to it, are very plentiful. So, when you don your skeleton and witch costumes this year, remember the pagan rituals you are engaging in and be forewarned; the other creatures you meet up with might not just be other students in disguise. They could be the lost souls of the dead, waiting to inhabit your own body.

If you’re looking for a place to go where Halloween is really the cat’s meow, try the Sycamore Pumpkin Festival, which is happening this weekend. The events include a parade, a pumpkin carving contest and other Halloween activities. For more information, call the Sycamore Chamber of Commerce at 895-3456.