It's me again, your frightful
folklorist! As a long time denizen of the bookstore I can attest
to the truth of Mike's experiences - it's true, the books do
move by themselves. Either that, or something is moving them
around in the dead of night . . .
Now it seems you've had your
chills, you've seen the deals, and this newsletter has just a
few sentences of . . . life . . . left. In past issues we've
discussed the ancient origins of Halloween, and never got much
further than the Celts. Here then, is the shortest history of
Halloween-in-the-past-200-years you'll ever read:
That's what I said in the "paper"
version of the newsletter! However, You the Web Reader are now
invited to read this lengthier treatise . . .
Halloween being Druidic (hence
Celtic) in origin, it was preserved principally in the areas
of Britain the unfortunate Celts were pushed into by the Germanic
Angles and Saxons - mainly Scotland and Ireland. It is thanks
to the Scots of course that the original "All Hallow's Eve"
was turned into the modern "Halloween."
However, though the Scottish
brought the name and the original superstitions when they migrated
en masse to this country in the 1600's and 1700's, it remained
for the great Irish migrations of the 1800's to turn this day
from a simple reminder of pagan superstitions to the grand holiday
it is today.
The Jack O'Lantern dates from
an old Irish legend concerning a "Flying Dutchman"
of the marshes - Jack was an unfortunate who ran afoul of the
Devil, some saying that he won a pact with the Dark Lord which
kept him from going to hell. Unfortunately, when Jack died, he
was too wicked to be allowed into heaven, and since the hell
thing was already a closed door, he was doomed to wander the
marshes for eternity, and can often be spotted by the ghostly
light from his lantern as he wends his way through the marshes
- especially around Halloween.
This legend was paired with
an old tradition of collecting pennies for the dead at this time
of year, and it was common to see children going from door to
door on Halloween night asking for pennies, using hollowed out
gourds with candles inside to light their way, in emulation of
Jack's light. This is the root of the modern Jack O'Lantern -
the poor pumpkin remained in obscurity in the New World, waiting
to be discovered.
The coming of millions of Irish
in the mid-1800's to America gave Halloween new significance.
The pumpkin quickly supplanted the gourd, and Victorian America
liked the idea of a day to playfully give in to archaic superstition.
As the century wore on, it became a common practice among younger
people to dabble in innocent superstitions on this night - there
were a great many rituals for getting a ghostly glimpse of one's
future mate - and all would only work on October 31st!
In the meantime, going door
to door for pennies was not as immediately taken to, and the
resentment of non-Irish Americans for these "thieving Irish
children" led to a bit of a backlash. More and more, Halloween
became a night for pulling pranks and causing general mischief.
This, of course, immediately caught on with children of every
descent, and by the turn of the century the situation was out
So it was that wise people
throughout the land decided to offer an alternative to the devilish
Halloween antics by reinstating and legitimizing the practice
of "trick or treating." Halloween was now getting into
high gear, and grew so in popularity that in 1921 the first City
sanctioned Halloween festivities occurred in Minnesota. Pennsylvania
followed in 1922, New York in 1923, and by the end of the decade
it had become the national event we know and love today.
If you're reading this you're
obviously online. Therefore, I give you a list of some of my
favorite Halloween sites. A couple have good links to hundreds
of others, so . . .