Folks, we're down to the wire, now. You've got your costume and all the accessories to go with it. Your Halloween party is planned. You've spent recent days decking out your home with all manner of scary Halloween decor. What's left to do before Halloween? How about learning a few fun (and somewhat shocking) facts about your favorite holiday!
The Great Pumpkin. Pumpkins are indigenous to the United States and grow plentifully throughout the Americas. Pumpkins are members of the gourd family. Although pumpkins are most commonly orange, pumpkins can also be found in a wide variety of other colors including green, yellow, white, and blue! Irish immigrants found their new U.S. home a little short on turnips, which they had traditionally used to carve their Halloween lanterns while back in their homeland. Pumpkins were very plentiful, however, so they were quickly substituted for the turnips and the good old pumpkin Jack O Lantern has been a Halloween staple ever since. We think pumpkins are a better choice anyway, don't you?
Costume Parties. Dressing up in a costume for a Halloween party is an annual tradition for millions of people. Back in ancient times, the Halloween party was carried out in a little bit different manner than it is today. At the time of the harvest, local villagers would get together for a big celebration. They would have a huge bonfire to honor the harvest gods. Various rituals would be performed at this time, including the tossing animal bones right into the fires! The people who lived during this time were very superstitious, believing that during these autumn festivities the souls of the dead could come back in spiritual form to visit the living. The idea of ghostly spirits running around on All Hallows' Eve frightened many, and they came up with various strategies to keep themselves safe from any spirits that may have evil on their minds. Dressing up to look as scary or dead as possible was done as it was believed that if the spirits thought the person was already deceased, they would leave them alone!
Costumes. As mentioned, the earliest Halloween costumes were crafted in Ireland to keep evil spirits as far away as possible. These costumes were often made from animal heads, skins, and rudimentary homemade makeup. Early Halloween costumes were always an attempt to be as scary as possible. Scary Halloween costumes are still considered most traditional, but these days you are just as likely to see costumes that are humorous, sexy, silly or creative.
Ghosts, Witches and other Halloween Monsters. Halloween and ghosts have always been closely linked. This is because the ancients believed that the spirits of the dead were able to return to the land of the living on Halloween night. Other monsters are also closely associated with Halloween, including witches, vampires, and werewolves.
The term "witch" comes from the Old Saxon word "wica" which actually means "wise one." In ancient days, witches were often skilled with medicine and were considered to be healers. Witches had mastered the use of herbs and other remedies to help sick people. As Christianity spread throughout Europe, these healers were intimidating to the local clergy who labeled the witches as sorcerers and devil worshipers even though it was entirely not true. Early immigrants coming to the U.S. brought with them their old superstitions and lore, including those surrounding the witch!
Vampires-The vampire character has been a Halloween classic for decades, and the genesis of the vampire goes deep into history. Vampires are part of ancient folklore that was used to explain away why so many people died due to various mysterious plagues that struck local towns and villages. Ridiculous and wild stories began to circulate. Tales of a newly deceased person coming to life as an "undead" person, returning to feast on the blood of the living to maintain it's life force became the standard excuse for any unexplained tragedies.
Werewolves-Superstitions surrounding the werewolf or the potential of werewolves were also common amongst the overly worrisome folks of yesteryear. Any characteristics that may be linked to a werewolf were noted—including things like unibrows, hairy palms or even something as innocuous as having a middle finger that was longer than the other digits.
Trick or Treat! Centuries ago in Scotland and Ireland, it was an annual ritual on Halloween night for the less fortunate to go to the homes of the wealthy and offer prayers for the dead in exchange for money or food. This practice was brought to the states by immigrants and eventually evolved into what we now call trick or treating!
Halloween, steeped in ancient tradition and ritual, is one of the oldest and most beloved holidays out there. Knowing a little bit of the history and lore surrounding this most exciting day can only help you to enjoy it all the more! Happy Halloween!