Halloween traditions. How did they start.
I dealt with that in Ween one of the 5 Fables for the Young at Heart.
Here is an excerpt:
John’s hat brim bobbed as he nodded and asked, “What do you know about All Hallow’s Evening?”
Patrick was startled to hear him use Nana’s words.
“Trick-or-treat, costumes, candy, pumpkins, soaped windows, black cats, etcetera, etcetera,” Rose recited immediately.
“That is Halloween,” John said. “What do you know about All Hallow’s Evening, from time gone by?”
“It’s a time of magic,” Patrick said, irritated that Rose would answer a question clearly within his area of expertise. “It’s a time when spirits roam the world and give magic a boost.”
“A very unstable time,” agreed John.
Something about the way he said it made Andrew renew his search for any familiar landmark.
“Halloween is like a nickname,” Patrick explained. “All Hallow’s Evening, E’enin’, E’en. Hallow E’en’ because it’s the night before All Hallow’s Day, or All Saint’s Day.”
“That is what it is called,” John said. “That is not what it is.”
Andrew wished he could see John’s face. Sometimes you could get a hint what adults meant if you could see the expressions on their faces.
“Long before there was an All Hallow’s Day,” continued John. “There were celebrations on this night.”
Rose chipped in with a crack, “When people lived in caves?”
John remained unswayed by her attitude. “It could have started that long ago. But it was not until there were farms and villages that people gathered on this night.”
“In the Olde Country,” Patrick said using Nana’s phrase.
“Yes,” John agreed. “Over there, and here, winters were harsh. People died from the cold, or from the hunger, or both. And so they measured their year to harvest’s end. That was when they stopped putting livestock out to pasture, preparing many for slaughter in order to survive the coming weather. At the death of the old year they celebrated all that enriched their lives because they were about to face terrible hardships.”
“Why not celebrate in the spring when everything was better?” Rose asked.
“They did. In the spring they consumed whatever had not been consumed, congratulating themselves for surviving, but at harvest time, when the sun’s warmth became distant, the people remembered a time without the sun and feared for its return. They built bonfires to mark the end of the sun’s reign, wishing each other good fortune until the sun’s return.
“All Hallow’s Evening is time set aside to remember the fallen and hope for the future. It is time set aside for making wishes, for calling magic. Changing names on a calendar does not change reality. The Olde New Year, the Magic New Year, begins on the first day of November.”
“That’s not Halloween!” Rose cried out. “Halloween is on October thirty-first!”
John stopped walking and turned to her, “As their year ended when the sun faded, so their day ended when the sun set. October thirty-first ends when the sun sets and November first is born.”
He turned around and resumed walking.
“I thought we waited until dark so we had time to put our costumes on,” Rose whispered to Patrick.
A little further along in the story more traditions are discussed:
Rose was the first to break the silence, “If this all started in the Olde Country as Patrick calls it, why pumpkins?” she asked. “They’re North American.”
“True, they are a recent addition to a long time practice,” John replied. “But they are superb. They are easy to hollow. They even look like spawn of the harvest moon.”
“Why hollow any vegetable?” Rose persisted.
“Tradition. In the Olde Country, on All Hallow’s Evening, children travelled over the countryside from farm to farm begging for Soul Cakes. Glass was too precious to be allowed outdoors, so they lit their way with candles protected from the wind inside a hollowed out gourd
“When they knocked on the door of a person of poverty – – if there were no Soul Cakes – – they asked for candles to keep their way lit. When they knocked on the door of a person of wealth – – if there were no Soul Cakes – – they asked for money to buy candles. Persons who gave nothing were warned that the imps would target them for their earthside pranks.”
John paused as they stopped on a rise overlooking the two bonfires. They could see the fresh fire flash momentarily brighter as the last of the new wood collapsed into it. The stale fire glowed with orange cracks cutting through its dark ash.
“There is an ancient legend about a lantern of eternal fire,” John said.
“And I bet you’re going to tell us about it,” Rose cracked causing Andrew to laugh. Patrick swatted both their shoulders.
John faced the three friends, pumpkin light boiling in their eyes, and spoke to Rose.
“A long time ago there lived a selfish peddler who never did anything unless he got something out of it. He did not care about anyone but himself and he never gave a gift unless he expected a gift in return, always making sure that what he gave was of lesser value than what he expected to get.
“The peddler was clever and tricked people into doing things for him. As a result he became very successful. The peddler always boasted that he had made his own way, by his own schemes, never acknowledging help from any other source, even refusing to believe in luck or fate.
“One day, the devil came to meet him, having heard about the peddler’s deeds. The devil knew he would soon die in a carriage crash and wanted to make arrangements for the peddler’s soul. The peddler wouldn’t agree to the terms and during their debate he tricked the devil and trapped him inside an outhouse by scratching a cross on its door. He refused to open the door until the devil promised never to take his soul.
“The peddler figured that playing such a trick on the devil would be an instant guarantee of a place in heaven. But on the night of the carriage crash, he was turned away from heaven’s gate for having lived such a greedy and selfish life. As for tricking the devil, the peddler was told it was easy for a clever person to trick someone as greedy as the devil.
“The peddler felt cheated by heaven and planned to get revenge by offering his services to the devil. When he arrived at the gates of hell the devil refused to meet with him and he was denied entry. The peddler asked the devil’s gatekeeper where his spirit could rest and was told there was no place for him to rest, that he must always wander the outer world. When he complained that the way back was dark, the devil’s gatekeeper threw a lump of hell’s coal at him. ‘Take that and go!’
“And so the peddler hollowed out a turnip and put the piece of hell’s coal inside to light his way.
“Ever since then, he has wandered the night, travelling every road, looking for lost souls who need to find their way.”