Getting in the spirit of the season
By Karen Butler
Published Oct. 30, 2018
What’s your favourite part of the Halloween season? The costumes? The decorations? The candy? The roots of our modern traditions lie centuries, if not millennia, ago.
In the Celtic tradition, Halloween, known as Samhain, was the New Year, a time to celebrate a successful harvest, but also to recognize that the long winter nights were coming. In an era before mass produced sweets, the original treats would have been the apples and nuts which represented the bounty of the season.
The costumes we wear have their roots in a desire to disguise oneself from spirits which might have been abroad, as this was seen as the time when the barriers between this world and the “otherworld” were said to be at their very thinnest. Not all spirits were seen as threatening though. Families might leave food out or candles in the window as a sign of welcome to departed loved ones who would come back to visit, though this custom wasn’t unique to the Celtic regions.
Have you heard the tale of the original jack o’lantern? It tells of a man named Jack who during his life had tricked the Devil, but when he died, he was turned away from the gates of Heaven. He made his way to Hell, but the Devil wouldn’t take him either. Jack made his way into the dark night, but at the last moment, the Devil tossed him a hot coal to light his way. Jack placed his coal in a turnip – not a pumpkin! – and is said to still be using it to light his way as he roams. So, yes, you did read that right – the original jack o’lanterns were made from turnips, and you’re also right that they are much harder to carve!
Though many North American Halloween celebrations have their roots in the Celtic tradition, it’s important for us to remember that there are other customs celebrated this time of year, with one of the most colourful being the Mexican tradition of Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead. Many people are familiar with the imagery of skeletons associated with these celebrations, but it’s important to know the meaning behind these images. Dressing as a skeleton means that death is nothing to fear – it is essentially a way to laugh at death.
Day of the Dead is a time to celebrate our ancestors and show them that we’re doing well, hence the bright colours and exuberant decorations which are such a part of the holiday. Would you like to learn more? Don’t miss out on our final Hali Halloween event for this year, happening at the Haliburton Highlands Museum on Nov. 1 at 7 p.m.
Melodie Acero will be sharing a wealth of information about this holiday, and we invite everyone attending to also bring a picture of a departed loved one, if they wish, to add to be included as part of the Dia de los Muertos altar which we’ll be creating. Don’t miss out on learning all about this fascinating tradition!