Halloween is believed to have originated as a Celtic holiday, celebrated during the time of year when the hours of the day grew smaller and nighttime was longer. Samhuinn, the Gaelic holiday for Halloween, means the fire of peace. The fire, which was kept burning throughout the night was used to protect peoples’ farms, their possessions, mothers and newborns from fairy thieves, who roamed at night. Ceremonies and superstitious rites were performed around the fires of peace. For good luck on the night of Halloween children were given apples and nuts. Ceremonies included ducking for apples, pulling of kail stocks, and reading of fortunes in teacups.
Children would make faces out of large, carved out large turnips and light them with candles. These were called bogies (this is also the source of the bogie man). The tradition of carving bogies was brought to America by Irish immigrants, and instead of turnips, pumpkins were used. The Irish called the carved turnips Jack’s Lantern. Jack was a trickster, whose devilish ways kept him out of Heaven. The Devil did not trust Jack either, and instead of taking him to Hell he gave Jack a hot coal to light his way for eternity as he roamed aimlessly frightening the people on earth.
Halloween has been given the official date of October 31st because it is the day before the Christian holy day of All Saints Day, in which the superstitious believe to be a time filled with ghosts of saints and martyrs leaving their graves to be honored. The night before All Saints Day was then called All Hallows’ Eve, which eventually became simply called Halloween.
Find more information about Halloween in the Special Collections Department, Social Sciences Department or at your local branch library.
Kelley, Ruth E. The Book of Hallowe’en. Boston: 1919.
MacGregor, Alexander. Highland Superstitions. London: 1901.