Halloween: Historical Background, Traditions And Haunted Houses

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Every year around October 1st we all get excited for the upcoming spooky season. If not, you’re either weird or you just weren’t raised right. Kidding. But, really, who doesn’t get excited for scary movies, fall leaves, haunted houses, carving pumpkins, pumpkin patches, dressing up, and getting spooked? Although for as long as we remember, this is what Halloween is all about, but like everything else, there’s more to it than what meets the eye. What exactly is Halloween all about? Beyond the costumes, what makes it so creepy?

The history of the spooky holiday we all have grown to love actually started way back in ancient times, specifically in a land that Celtic people populated – what we know today as Northern France, Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales and Brittany (Santino). Halloween has been around for almost forever, being passed down generation after generation. The Celts worshipped a sun God, Belenus and they worshipped another god as well, the lord of death. The Celtics celebrated two events: the beginning of winter and the beginning of summer. Back then they celebrated Samhain, or (the end of summer) which is what we know as Halloween today.

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From the very beginning, on the very last day of October, the Celtics would have a festival helping people link their ancestors of the past. They strongly believed the dead would rise on the eve of Samhain so that the ghosts and demons were free to roam the earth. The Celtics would make offerings to the spirit world to try and get their loved ones to visit with them. It must’ve been a frightening time for those who were superstitious of the unknown. The frightened kept flames going on their land to help scare these ghosts and spirits away. They also sacrificed animals on this night, and possibly humans who were sentenced to death. Charms, spells and future predictions were said to have more power during Samhain.

The Salem Witch Trials Celebration in 1992 not only brought tons of international media attention, it also brought huge crowds of people. There weren’t enough activities as there were people, and it was so busy that the buses had to turn around. Naturally, there was more crime on Halloween night, which stretched the Salem police and fire department to their limits. To some degree, it has recently been brought back (Bannatyne).

Little creatures were believed to live under ground or in the dark places, the French called these creatures goblins, or another name they called them is “Little People.” Just like a lot of other creatures, they stood for evil spirits who came back on Halloween. It was said that some people caught glimpses of the little people and were surprised by how quickly they vanished, like magic. People would leave food out for them to stop them from harming them in anyway, and would throw away anything that was left over, in case the goblins poisoned it. Apparently, the only thing to keep them away or the only thing to frighten them is iron. People would hang iron around their homes and wear it around them when going around the goblins.

Many traditions took place for Halloween, some we still do today, and some we’ll never do again. The Wales would get their family together, each of them grab a white stone, mark it and throw their stones onto huge bonfires before they would go to sleep. If any stones went missing by morning, they believed this was a sign that a death would occur before the next Halloween day. In old Brittany, families would put out pancakes and cider for souls to eat when they rose from their graves. Scottish farmers would light torches made of straw around their land to keep the witches away. We all loved dressing up as kids as our favorite character or someone scary. However, costumes weren’t always used for fun. The Celtics would hide themselves in a disguise so that the ghosts wandering wouldn’t think they were their loved ones and to scare away any unwanted ghosts.

It wasn’t long before Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire, giving Samhain a different name. “Let the shrines of idols by no means be destroyed. Let water be consecrated and sprinkled in the temples, let altars be erected. So that the people, not seeing temples destroyed may displace error and recognize and adore the one true God. And because they were wont to sacrifice the devils, some celebration should occur in exchange for this.” Because of this, Samhain became Halloween, which stands for “Saint’s Day” or “All Hallows.” This wasn’t something that happened over night, it took years for this transition. Halloween or Saint’s Day is all attributed to Pope Boniface IV. He made this day for early Christians who died for their beliefs before they could be recognized for their holiness. People made “soul cakes” which were little pastries and breads to offer to exchange for blessings, rather than trying to satisfy the spirits with food and wine. Over time, young boys and girls would go house to house throughout their neighborhood singing soul songs while asking for ale, food or money instead of soul cakes. People of the town were said to dress up in a disguise, but not to frighten unwanted spirits and ghosts, but to welcome Christian saints.

Halloween is one of a kind, it has celebrations and festivities like no other holiday has. I guarantee every American knows the reason behind Christmas, Easter, New Year’s and probably even St. Patrick’s Day. But not many people know why we celebrate Halloween, many think it is just for fun. Only in the past three decades writers, historians and folklorists have taken the history of Halloween seriously. The identity of Halloween has shifted since then, which has made it difficult to come up with an up to date summary. In just this last year alone, there are parts of the world participate in Halloween that never has before. It’s important to know the roots behind the holiday that we’re celebrating. Halloween is expanding to places that it never has before.

One huge tradition we have today is visiting haunted houses, although it is something very risky and creepy, depending on who you are (Oxlade). Because we are told not to mess around with any kind of spirits and avoid them at all costs, even in spooky season. It’s a very common activity to visit somewhere to get spooked. There are thousands of haunted houses around the world, but here are a few of the famous ones. In 1892, Henry Bull’s son took over their house, but had strange things happen to him when he did. The residents of the house seen a headless man in the garden and a ghost-like carriage in the driveway. It wasn’t until 1929, that a poltergeist moved in. Keys would go missing, they would hear strange noises, scratching on the walls. This continued until 1939, when they burned this house to the ground. Witnesses said they seen dark figures leaving the home as it burned. In 1860, a nursery became haunted after the housekeeper gave birth to a deformed baby (Amario). When the baby died shortly after, the mother buried the baby in the walls of the nursery. The baby’s mother also died after hours of giving birth from a fever, it is said that she roams the nursery. The octagon is also haunted, the word octagon itself means eight-sided, while the octagon house is only six-sided. The famous ghost story of the octagon is of Dolley Madison, the wife of President James Madison. In 1812, after the war, Dolley had many parties in the ball room. It said that visitors have heard partiers and heard voices in the ballroom. They say she’s still partying in that ball room.

Ever wonder where jack-o-lanterns came from? The fun fall activity we all are familiar with and love to this day has a creepy back story to it. The jack-o-lantern comes from Irish custom (Belk). Irish kids would take long hollowed out potatoes, rutabagas or turnips, carve faces into them and then light a candle inside of them to make a jack-o-lantern. The term “jack-o-lantern” comes from an Irishman named Jack. It was said that he tricked the devil into not taking his soul twice. When the devil climbed a tree, Jack would carve a cross into it so he couldn’t make his way back down the tree. Jack wouldn’t let him come back down until he promised to never take his soul. When Jack did die, he was banned from heaven, sending him to the gates of hell. However, he was refused and was doomed to wander the world forever with his ghostly body. While he was leaving the devil threw him live coal, Jack happened to be eating a turnip, so he stuck the coal inside the turnip after carving a face into it. He now roams the earth with his Jack-o-lantern turnip in hopes to find a place to rest. Eventually, turnips turned to carving pumpkins because it was much easier.

Halloween is a major holiday in America, it seems to thrive more and more each year. It is ranked second in our holidays, with Christmas obviously in first. Not only children are celebrating, but adults are starting to participate as well. From decorating, to dressing up and going to Halloween activities. Are all of the folk tales true about Halloween? I am kind of glad that we’ll never know the truth, either way Halloween time is as spooky as it comes. Whether it’s the history, or all the scary decorations and movies, Halloween will always be offsetting to some people. Some people will always believe that it is an evil holiday and only evil people celebrate it. Despite the people who find it to be disturbing, most people love and enjoy the holiday with dressing up and “trick or treating” from house to house.


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