Yes it’s Halloween and we’re all dressed up, but do you have any idea why you’re doing this? Why you’ve dressed yourselves up in what would look completely ridiculous on any other day? Have you been carving pumpkins and made the front of your house look like a graveyard. Is that big bowl of candy by the front door yet, ready for the first batch of little horrors to arrive?
Halloween dates back as far as 1200BC. We can find its roots in an ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain (Sau-in), meaning “summers end”; the beginning of the darker half of the year. The Celts believed the borders between this world and the “otherworld” touched at Sau-in and allowed the spirits to cross. Dead ancestors would drop in, but evil spirits also crossed, so the Celts disguised themselves by dressing in ghoulish costumes and masks to trick the real evil spirits and protect themselves In the 9th century, the church tried to supplant the pagan celebration with a Christian holiday. The word Halloween comes from a shortened version of “Hallows Eve”, the evening before All Saints Day. In fact back then, the next day started at sunset, so Halloween and All Saints were the same day. The church got the name Halloween to stick, but most of the rituals go back to those Celts.
For instance, I’m sure many of you have carved pumpkins this week. You can thank the Celts for that. They believed the head was the most powerful and spiritual part of the body, so they carved faces in turnips, placed a lighted candle inside and put them in their windows to keep evil spirits out. Those Celts that went looking for turnips must have been the first generation of Headhunters!
And the phrase Jack o’lantern comes from a legend about a greedy, gambling, hard-drinking old Irish farmer called Stingy Jack (I like him already). He tricked the devil into climbing a tree and he trapped him up there by carving a cross into the tree trunk. In revenge, the devil cursed him, condemning Jack to wander the earth at night forever, with only a lighted candle inside a hollowed turnip. Our family spends hours carving pumpkins around the kitchen table making one incredible mess of stringy flesh, juice, seeds… and the occasional Jack o lantern.
When I grew up in England, we didn’t carve any vegetables. We called Halloween “mischief night” and roamed the neighborhood in darkness doing naughty pranks, some innocent and some not so much. We’d knock on doors and run away (how original!), or tip garbage bins over – and it wasn’t me who broke Mrs Parkin’s window!! I guess we were sometimes a little over zealous playing the “evil spirits” bit.
I still get up to mischief on Halloween, I dress as a witch with newspaper stuffing coming out from between my clothes and sit very still on a stool by the front door. The kids think I’m a stuffed mannequin until they reach the door, then I move and speak – they run away screaming! The tricks on me at our house! “Trick or treating” evolved from something called “souling”. In medieval times, the poor dressed up in costumes on All Saints Day and begged for food in exchange for reciting prayers for peoples souls. So fellow toastmasters, tonight we’re celebrating an ancient pagan ritual that’s evolved and been added to over the centuries. It’s celebrated in different ways and under different names around the world. But the common theme goes back to those Celts 3000 years ago talking to the dead and trying to scare away the evil spirits. Got to believe there has to be something in it to have survived this long – so watch out tonight as you drive home, a dead relative like Uncle Fred or Auntie Edna may just want to pop out of nowhere and have a chat .
Trick or treat?
First Oakville Toastmasters Getting Into The “Spirit” of Things