The holidays bring tradition, whether it's something you make up in your own family or from something of long ago and sometimes you just have to ask why we do these things-just for the sake of tradition?
Halloween has ghost stories, trick-or-treating, and bobbing for apples, among many other traditional themes and party games but where did these traditions come from?
"Halloween" comes from the words "All Hallows Eve" since the next day (November 1) is "All Hallows Day" or as we commonly call it, "All Saints Day" in the Catholic Church, the day of observance to honor the saints. So why do we need to know about Halloween? I can remember going to mass on Halloween with my costume on, waiting patiently (or not!) to go trick-or-treating afterwards.
Summer officially ended in Celtic Ireland on October 31, way back in the 5th century BC and this was called Samhain, or what we might call the Celtic New Year. So it was believed, on October 31, the disembodied spirits of those who died the year before would return searching for living bodies to possess. The living did not want to be possessed so they would dress up in ghoulish costumes and parade around the neighborhoods, being destructive so as to frighten away the spirits.
The Romans adopted the Celtic practices, but also celebrated their own traditions that occurred in October, such as the day to honor Pomona, the goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol for Pomona is the apple, which might explain our modern tradition of bobbing for apples at Halloween parties.
Many years later, ghost stories came about during Halloween in Ireland. It was said that if someone had died the previous year and you were still holding a grudge against that person, he or she would appear to you on the evening before All Saints Day. You'd be so startled you'd run to do whatever would make your forgiveness complete. Not a bad reminder any time of the year!
Our tradition of going trick-or-treating goes back to Irish farmers would go door-to-door collecting food and materials for a village feast and bonfire. Those who gave were promised prosperity and those who did not received threats of bad luck. When an influx of Irish Catholic immigrants came to the United States in the 1800's, (potato famine) the custom of trick-or-treating came with them.
Our tradition of pumpkin carving also goes back to the Irish, who would carve turnips and place lighted candles inside to ward off the spirits. When the Irish came to America, they discovered the pumpkin as a larger substitute for the turnip. And so, we now carve pumpkins instead of turnips for Halloween. Carving pumpkins has come a long way since then, even as an artform for some, carving elaborate scenes or portraits out of pumpkins.
Our family tradition may not make any sense to anyone else, but we have pancakes for our traditional Halloween dinner. It was something quick to make that we all enjoyed and could get on with the business of going trick-or-treating and passing out treats to those who came to our door. Then we could watch "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" which is still one of my favorites today. That was started when our kids were very young and they asked if we could do that every year! Now, when I ask if anyone wants pancakes, they like to reply, "Is it Halloween already?"