The origins of the Halloween holiday

0 Posted by - October 8, 2010 - Halloween Backdrop Rentals, Halloween backdrops, history of Halloween, Horror backdrops

Guest Blog by John Robert Myers

There is an Autumn chill in the air. Spiders, busy spinning their webs, are also catching victims for their winter meals. Horror movies of vampires, werewolves and scary castles are on television and in the theatre. Our Halloween backdrops of graveyards, pumpkin patches and Transylvania landscapes come to mind (check them out!). Halloween activities include carving jack-o-lanterns, visiting “haunted houses”, costume parties, Halloween plays, bonfires and of course trick-or-treating. We at Backdrops Fantastic are getting in the Halloween spirit! Turn down the lights, and we shall tell you the spooky legend of Halloween…..

To find Halloween’s origin, we must travel back 2000 years to the area now known as Ireland, northern France and the United Kingdom. The Celts who lived there celebrated their new year on November 1st. They believed that the transitions of the seasons were a time of magic. On the night before the new year, they celebrated Samhain (pronounced sow-in). On this night it was thought that the spirits of the dead roamed the earth. On this day, households would extinguish their cooking fires as a way of making their homes inhospitable to ghosts. The Celtic priests, or Druids as they were called, would meet and light a sacred bonfire, thanking the gods for the harvest. On the morning of November 1, the Druid priests would give a hot ember from the sacred bonfire to each family, so that they could take it home to start new cooking fires. The Celts would bring the ember home in hollowed-out turnips, creating a lantern (more about the turnip later!). The festival lasted for 3 days. Many people would parade in costumes made from the skins and heads of animals representing various gods of nature.

By the year 800 the influence of Christianity was spreading into the Celtic lands. Around this time, the Pope designated November 1 as All-Hallows Day as a time to honor saints and martyrs. The pope was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a church-sanctioned holiday. Eventually, the night before became All-Hallows Eve. In the year 1000 the church would make November 2 All Souls’ Day to honor the dead. The holiday was celebrated similarly to Samhain with bonfires, parades and people dressed in costume.

Now back to the hallowed out turnip! There is the very popular Irish tale of a famous cheapskate named Stingy Jack, who avoided losing his soul to the devil by tricking him. He convinced Satan to climb up a tree for some apples, and then cut crosses all around the trunk so the devil couldn’t climb down. The devil finally promised Jack that if he let him out of the tree, he would never take Jack’s soul. Well, when it came Jack’s time to die, due to his life of sin, he was turned away from Heaven. But, because of his promise from the Devil, he wasn’t welcome in Hell either. As Jack was leaving the gates of Hell, the Devil threw a hot ember at him. Jack placed the ember in a hollowed-out turnip, and wandered off into the darkness. According to Irish legend, you might see Jack’s spirit on All Hallows’ Eve, still carrying his turnip lantern through the dark. The jack-o’-lanterns were popular in Ireland and Scotland. The Irish brought the tradition to America and switched from the turnip to the bigger, more plentiful pumpkin!

In late medieval times the European custom of souling came into being. On November 1, All Saints Day, “Soulers”, (mostly poor folk and children) would go door to door, singing and begging for “Souls” (small cakes made out of square pieces of simple bread desserts with a currant topping). The more cakes the beggars received, the more prayers they would promise to say on November 2 (All Souls Day) on behalf of the donors dead relatives. It was believed that prayer could free a soul from Purgatory. The soul cake song that the soulers sang was very similar to the lines of the modern “Trick-or-treat, trick-or-treat, give me something good to eat.”

When one thinks of Halloween, witches and black cats come to mind. Some legends tell of witches, arriving on broomsticks to attend a party hosted by the devil on Halloween. There is also the legend that witches could also shape shift themselves into black cats or black cats were spirits of the dead.

By the end of the 1860s, only Catholics and Episcopalians celebrated All Saints’ Day and Halloween. The two religions combined made up less than 5% of the U.S. population. The two religions began a campaign to put those two holidays on all public calendars. In the late 1800’s Americans began to mold Halloween into a holiday more about neighborhood “get-togethers”. Halloween parties for children and adults became the most common way of celebration. When Halloween finally did appear on the calendar, magazines and newspapers made a big deal about it. This gave the holiday national attention and people began celebrating it with costume parties and bonfires. In the 1920’s and 30’s Halloween became a secular but community centered holiday. As in modern times, treats were handed out in order to prevent tricks like lawn rolling at each home. Today, Halloween is our country’s second largest commercial holiday with more than two billion dollars spent each year on candy alone!

Examples below of our Halloween theme backdrops available for rental or sale

Classic Horror backdrop
Transylvania backdrop
Halloween backdrop
Graveyard Ghoul backdrop
Spider Web backdrop
Haunted Mansion Interior backdrop

To see more of our Halloween theme backdrops click here;

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