Some folklorists have detected the origins of Halloween in the Roman feast of Pompona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, or in the festival of the dead called Parentalia.
It is more typically linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain whose original spelling was Samuin (pronounced sow-an or sow-in)” The name of the festival historically kept by the Gaels and Celts in the British Isles which is derived from “Old Irish” and means roughly “summer’s end”.
Although the phrase All Hallows is found in Old English (ealra hālgena mæssedæg, mass-day of all saints), All-Hallows-Even is also not attested until 1556.
The Celts would pay homage to dead kin by placing a skeleton by their windows. These were the first ‘lanterns’. Celts believed the head contained the spirit, and was hence the body’s most important part. Celts then began to use the head of vegetables to ward off evil spirits and superstitions.
Today, most people know that a Jack O’ Lantern is a hollowed out pumpkin (or squash). However, the term Jack O’ Lantern comes from an Irish legend about Stingy Jack.
Stingy Jack was a farmer who used to drink a lot. Legend has it that Jack tricked the devil to climb a tree and then trapped him in the tree trunk by carving a cross into the tree bark.
To get his revenge, the devil cursed Jack to roam the earth at night with a candle inside a hollowed turnip – the only light Jack had on that night.
The festival, originally celebrated by Celts to remember their departed has become commercialised and is a huge money-spinner. As a way of making even more money, the imagery of Halloween has turned more to evil, Hollywood horror films and the dead, rather than remembering those who have passed-on.
For the most part, Halloween today is a night where trick or treaters take to the street in orange and black, with Halloween costumes and pumpkins carved into Jack-o-Lanterns. It is a customary celebration for children to knock door to door asking for treats – most often chocolates, crisps and snacks. Alternatively, a person may ask for a trick – which doesn’t often happen!
Halloween parties also take place across the UK and Europe, with Halloween party goers donning costumes, ghost outfits, apple bobbing and carving lanterns from pumpkins.
Apple bobbing is a game often played in connection with Halloween. The game is played by filling a tub or a large basin with water and putting apples in the water. Because apples are less dense than water, they will float on the surface.
In Scotland this may be called “dooking”
In Ireland, mainly County Kerry, it is known as “Snap Apple” night.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, Snap Apple Night is another name for Halloween.