Halloween Special

According to Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, the 31st of October in the old Celtic calendar was the last day of the year, and it was believed to be a night when all the witches and warlocks were out.

This is corroborated in The Folklore of World Holidays. The Druids believed that the dead came back to visit the living every 31 October. In the 8th century, Pope Gregory III appropriated this observance and moved it to November 1, creating the day known as All Saints’ Day. The day before became known as All Hallows’ Eve, and since the Middle Ages, this date has been associated with witches and sorcerers.

Fast-forward to 1745: According to the Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology, by that year it was recorded in Scotland that All Hallows’ Eve had been reduced to its current name. MPR News’ arts reporter Euan Kerr, a Glasgow native, sheds more light on the topic.

“People tend to slur things together,” Kerr says, “so we would start out with All Hallows’ Evening then All Hallows’ E’en and it eventually became Halloween.”

It’s important to note that Halloween can also be spelled Hallowe’en, which more strongly acknowledges the word’s heritage. “That’s the way I’ve always done it,” Kerr adds. “Occasionally it gets picked up by spell-checkers. But there should be an apostrophe there if you’re going to be right.”

Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote an epic poem called “Tam o’ Shanter” that was influenced by Celtic traditions. “It’s the story of a man who, coming home late drunk from the pub, encounters a witches’ sabbath,” Kerr says. “He is chased by this hideous group of people, led though by an extremely attractive young woman who is the witch. And she wears this cut-up piece of material which is kind of an undershirt, which was called the cutty sark.”

The poem left marks on the language that extend beyond witches and Halloween. The clipper ship, Cutty Sark, took its name from the poem. “It had a tin cutout of the vest stuck on the mast for its namesake,” Kerr says. “And the ship, of course, inspired the name of the very popular whisky.”

Back to Halloween, the jack o’lantern refers to a pumpkin that has been hollowed and carved with a face. A candle is placed inside to illuminate the face at night. According to Brewer’s Dictionary again, the term jack o’lantern was taken from another term for what’s commonly known as will o’ the wisp — scientific name ignis fatuus — which is the phosphorescent light seen near marshes, thought to be given off by decaying vegetation. The light of the pumpkin’s glowing face suggested the ostensibly magical light of will o’ the wisp to people, so they applied the name jack o’ lantern to the pumpkin. Other magic-sounding names for will o’ the wisp include: elf-fire, friar’s lantern, peg lantern, kit o’ the can[dle]stick, walking fire, fair maid of Ireland or John in the wad.

As for trick or treat, Brewer’s says it is a Halloween custom of American origin, wherein kids threaten a prank if not given sweets. Brewer’s qualifies this by explaining, “In most cases the latter is proffered and the former rarely realized.”

Folklore of American Holidays describes trick or treat as a recent phenomenon, having originated in the 20th century. But the book does suggest the practice may have its roots in the Celtic holiday of Samhain or Samhuinn, where it was customary to give cakes to the poor. Others attribute it to the English Plough Monday, the first Monday after Twelfth Night, when at one time ploughmen begged for gifts from landowners—lunch, perhaps?—with the threat that failure to give a gift would result in the ploughmen using their ploughs to damage the landowner’s property.

And it turns out there may be some Scots influence again. Euan Kerr says guising is a Halloween custom in Scotland where children go from house to house in costume “usually to perform something: a song, cast a riddle, tell a joke, and the tradition is to receive money—a small coin—or more recently, sweets of some kind.”

Kerr describes that trick-or-treating has been supplanting guising in recent years, possibly the effect of marketing efforts on the part of big corporations. Folklore of American Holidays seems to support this big-business influence, citing an unnamed US sociologist who asserted that trick or treat has little traditional heritage and that it is merely a “rehearsal for consumership.”

Alternatively, another source suggested the spread of trick-or-treating outside the United States and Canada could be traced to the global popularity of the film ET, which includes a lengthy trick-or-treatingscene.

Sources: Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 17th edition, edited by John Ayto; The Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology by Robert K. Barnhart; Folklore of World Holidays, 2nd edition, edited by Robert H. Griffin; Folklore of American Holidays, 3rd edition, edited by Tristram Potter Coffin; Oxford Dictionary of Current English


More interesting stuff at GrammarGrater.Gather.com.


14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mr. Handsome
    Oct 14, 2011 @ 13:46:20

    About this report the first thing is true.
    You can read “31st of October in the old Celtic calendar was the last day of the year, and it was believed to be a night when all the witches and warlocks were out.”
    You can see a lot of woman on the street drinking and smoking and they are very bad ,they are a real witches no only this day, they are witches every year.
    About “Cutty Sark” I know the name of the boat and the brand of whisky, I think so that Esan when he was young was a profesional of the Cutty Sark.
    I don’t sure if this party is Celtic or Canadian but in this moment in Spain is other party. When I was young, ten years ago, It didn’t exist this party, last years you can see in the school this party, for the children is a good idea but It’s a typical USA’s party.
    It is a good bussiness for the shipping center(Corte Ingles etc) but for me yhis day continuos being the day I’m going to the cementery to visit my family.
    I don’t remember the movie ET trick-or-treatingscene
    Sure Andrea eat this day a lot of candy and with his carrot hair she seems a witches


  2. luveustaki
    Oct 14, 2011 @ 17:36:46

    You’ve known me for 3 years and still you spell my name wrong it’s Andreea with double ‘e’. On Halloween I make pumpkin pie and I decorate the house, it’s a great day and everybody celebrates it, the young ones with a lot of treats, teenagers go out all dressed up to party … it’s true that in Spain this day is a bit sad as people remember the ones that are no longer with them. Esan has to confirm the Cutty Sark story. Are you doing any Halloween activity with your teacher this year?

    And women are NOT witches, maybe you were a bit unlucky 😀


  3. esan
    Oct 18, 2011 @ 08:26:34

    Was a professional , like every young man, of jameson,paddys, or even bushmills. Never liked Cutty Sark.


    • esan
      Oct 18, 2011 @ 08:29:43

      In Ireland It is a more pagan related tradition, but over the years, it has become more and more commercialised- anything to make money!!!


  4. Mr. Handsome
    Oct 18, 2011 @ 10:26:40

    Now your phisical state is very bad and when you will be dead it’s imposibble to donate your body to study because it’s garbage.
    this is the problem of the alcohol, now your appearance is that one person about 53 years old.
    My state is more good and I seem a teeneger.
    How are the dog, the hunter?
    at the bottom of my heart I love you Sean , but so far of my heart that I don’t find the final of the hole
    Sean It’s a joke but what do you think about the woman are a witches?
    I’m waiting your answer


    • esan
      Oct 18, 2011 @ 18:43:56

      I am bewitched by someone :P,
      I miss U 2 – Mr. Handsome- the dogs are good, the hunter has retired- no time to hunt
      You will be glad to know I have shaved off my beard- much to the delight of a certain someone, it will stay off for the foreseeable future


  5. luveustakiustaki
    Oct 18, 2011 @ 15:48:29

    Mr. Handsome please try to rephrase ‘so far of my heart that I don’t find the final of the hole’, I’m afraid I don’t understand this.
    If something would ever happen to Mr. Esan I’d like to get his skin to make wallpaper (freckles & tattoos good combination) 😀


  6. esan
    Oct 20, 2011 @ 04:13:06

    The Origin of Halloween

    Halloween’s roots can be traced back to Celtic culture in Ireland. According to their “Druid” religion, November 1st was New Years’ on their calendar. The celebration would begin on October 31st ,and last into the following day. The spirits of all who died in the prior year, would rise up and roam the earth on this night.

    This is an evil night when spirits roamed the streets and villages. Lord Samhain, the lord of Darkness, would arrive in search of the spirits to take them to the underworld.

    Halloween as it is currently celebrated with costumes, trick or treat, and superstitions, takes from this Druid Holiday.


  7. esan
    Oct 20, 2011 @ 04:18:16

    History of the Jack O’Lantern

    The Irish brought the tradition of the Jack O’Lantern to America. But, the original Jack O’Lantern was not a pumpkin.The Jack O’Lantern legend goes back hundreds of years in Irish History. As the story goes, Stingy Jack was a miserable, old drunk who liked to play tricks on everyone: family, friends, his mother and even the Devil himself. One day, he tricked the Devil into climbing up an apple 0tree. Once the Devil climbed up the apple tree, Stingy Jack hurriedly placed crosses around the trunk of the tree. The Devil was then unable to get down the tree. Stingy Jack made the Devil promise him not to take his soul when he died. Once the devil promised not to take his soul, Stingy Jack removed the crosses and let the Devil down.

    Many years later, when Jack finally died, he went to the pearly gates of Heaven and was told by Saint Peter that he was too mean and too cruel, and had led a miserable and worthless life on earth. He was not allowed to enter heaven. He then went down to Hell and the Devil. The Devil kept his promise and would not allow him to enter Hell. Now Jack was scared and had nowhere to go but to wander about forever in the darkness between heaven and hell. He asked the Devil how he could leave as there was no light. The Devil tossed him an ember from the flames of Hell to help him light his way. Jack placed the ember in a hollowed out Turnip, one of his favorite foods which he always carried around with him whenever he could steal one. For that day onward, Stingy Jack roamed the earth without a resting place, lighting his way as he went with his “Jack O’Lantern”.

    On all Hallow’s eve, the Irish hollowed out Turnips, rutabagas, gourds, potatoes and beets. They placed a light in them to ward off evil spirits and keep Stingy Jack away. These were the original Jack O’Lanterns. In the 1800’s a couple of waves of Irish immigrants came to America. The Irish immigrants quickly discovered that Pumpkins were bigger and easier to carve out. So they used pumpkins for Jack O’Lanterns.


  8. Sheldon rules
    Oct 20, 2011 @ 06:17:10

    Hello everyone and Mr Handsome:

    If you put in a blender a McDonalds burger plus 1 liter of coke and add one pinch of american spirit this is Halloween. The rest is only a justification to spent money.
    We are europeans not silly-stupid americans. We are the occidental culture roots 😉

    One cuestion, i apologize for my ignorance. Jack OLanterns is the cousin of Grenn lantern????



    “Soft kitty, warm kitty, little ball of fur, happy kitty, sleepy kitty, purr purr purr.”


  9. luveustaki
    Oct 20, 2011 @ 10:34:46

    Sheldon !!!! What a wonderful surprise to have you here 😀
    Halloween in Romania is celebrated around the myth of Dracula on October 31. In Transylvania and especially in the city of Sighişoara (my favourite place in the world), there are many costume parties, for teenagers and adults, that are created from the US model. Also the spirit of Dracula is believed to live there because the town was the site of many witch trials, these are recreated today by actors on the night of Halloween.

    “Soft kitty, warm kitty, little ball of fur, happy kitty, sleepy kitty, purr purr purr.” luv it!!!!!


  10. esan
    Oct 20, 2011 @ 17:56:53

    To Sheldon Rules
    Jack O’Lantern is the O’irish cousin of of the Green Lantern, also the Green Lantern stole the green from Jack 😦
    As a kid, we celebrated it the Pagan way, our parents would put the fear of God into us so badly, that on Hallowe’en night we would be so scared to walk past a cementary or down certain alleyways, later as we got older we used to go knacker drinking (botellon) in the cementary- to have a drink with the dead and also to try contact them using ouija boards 🙂
    Many very strange things were seen on this night- some amazing , but also some spine tingling things……………………………………..

    I checked out sighsoara on the net, looks absolutely amazing, I can just imagine the atmosphere on Hallowe’en night oooooooooooooooooooo


  11. luveustaki
    Oct 20, 2011 @ 18:20:58

    Of course Sighisoara is wonderful, Dracula was born there it’s totally amazing!!!


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