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Frighteningly Funny Facts & Terrifying Traditions
for a Haunting Halloween

by J. Monske

     A parade of pumpkins prances and flickers beneath the misty moonlight. Shadows sway. Crunchy leaves, burnished with the autumn’s last golden glow sweep across the streets. Cats dash and dart between the trees. Caped figures stalk the sidewalks. A flutter of wings swoops across the dark indigo night sky. A scarecrow smiles.


     Every year Halloween arrives in our homes and our hearts with a sack full of treats and enough tricks to entertain even the most somber zombie. This original Celtic holiday marking the pagan New Year is second only to Christmas in consumer spending, with Halloween shoppers driving the retail market to a howling 2.5 billion dollars each year on costumes, candy, party supplies and decorations, according to a variety of financial and consumer report magazines.


     The word itself, Halloween, comes from a shortened version of the Catholic observance of All Hollows Day or All Saints Day, celebrated on November 1.  While many legends and traditions abound surrounding this holiday of the spirits, most historians agree that Halloween emerged from the Irish Celts and in particular the Druids.        


     The villagers in Ireland extinguished their home fires on October 31, the time when the veil between the spirit world and the world of living bodies was lifted, to prevent the souls who had crossed over to the other side the preceding year from returning to possess living bodies. They extinguished their home fires to make the home undesirable and cold and would later re-light their fires from a common source, the Druidic fire that was kept burning in the Middle of Ireland in the area of Usinach.


     America began celebrating the holiday in the mid 1800's when Irish immigrants became more plentiful in the new world. For all of those who find this holiday to be a favorite since childhood, here’s a sampling of Halloween trivia to enhance this year’s celebration:


Pumpkins – Carving and decorating pumpkins is purely an American tradition because pumpkins were not a crop among the early Celtic people. The people of Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England used turnips, rutabagas and potatoes. They carved them to use as candleholders to light their way along the darkened streets. Carved faces were done to keep away evil spirits. When the immigrants saw pumpkins, they used them because they were plentiful and bigger.


Jack O’ Lantern – This term comes from an Irish folk tale about 'Stingy Jack' who was a notorious drunkard and trickster who tricked the devil into climbing a tree and then carved a cross into it to keep him from coming down. He then made a deal with the devil to stop tempting him if he let him out of the tree. When Jack died he was denied entrance to heaven because of his evil ways, but he was also denied entrance to hell because he tricked the devil. He had to roam the earth with a single hot ember, placed in a hollowed out turnip to light his way – his lantern.


Apples – Apples have also been associated with Halloween and autumn activities. They are a symbol of the goddess, immortality and knowledge because of the five-pointed star, the pentagram, which can be seen when the apple is cut in half through the middle. Bobbing for apples was done as a fertility ritual, and the first woman who was able to seize the apple and bite it would be the first to marry in the New Year.


Cats – The Celtic people believed that cats could actually be witches who had been transformed, especially black cats. Depending on the village or area in Europe, black cats were lucky or unlucky and white cats had the same reputation.


Sneezing – Why do people say “God bless you?” The Celtic people, and in some reports, the Welsh, believed that a sneeze could blow the soul right out of the body. If someone sneezed on Halloween, people would bless one another to keep evil away from the soul.

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