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October 31, 2013

Halloween History

Halloween, A History Snippet
by Phyllis Middleton

I thought about what to write today. Costumes? Parties? Treat…yum?  Once I started researching Halloween, I decided to pass along some of the bits of interesting history the internet was able to provide.

Straddling the line between fall and winter, plenty and paucity, life and death, Halloween is a time of celebration and superstition. It is thought to have originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, which is seen as 'autumn's end' and the beginning of winter. Samhain is pronounced (depending on where you're from) as 'sow-in' (in Ireland), or 'sow-een' (in Wales), or 'sav-en' (in Scotland), or (inevitably) 'sam-hane' (in the U.S., where we don't speak Gaelic). During this festival, people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts.

In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints and martyrs; the holiday, All Saints’ Day, incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before was known as All Hallows’ Eve and later Halloween. Over time, Halloween evolved into a secular, community-based event characterized by child-friendly activities such as trick-or-treating.

Trick or Treat - Old style    Trick or treating consisted of begging at the door grew from an ancient English custom of knocking at doors to beg for a "soul cake" in return for which the beggars promised to pray for the dead of the household. Soul cakes, a form of shortbread — and sometimes quite fancy, with currants for eyes — became more important for the beggars than prayers for the dead, it is said.

Florence Berger tells in her Cooking for Christ a legend of a zealous cook who vowed she would invent soul cakes to remind them of eternity at every bite. So she cut a hole in the middle and dropped it in hot fat, and lo — a doughnut. Circle that it is, it suggests the never-ending of eternity. Truth or legend ?

The refrains sung at the door varied from "a soul cake, a soul cake, have mercy on all Christian souls for a soul cake," to the later:

Soul, soul, an apple or two,
If you haven't an apple, a pear will do,
One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for the Man Who made us all.

Halloween today, to most of us, Halloween means fun costumes and creative food at parties.

Back in my cop days, we had a Sargeant who had a sense of humor different than most. That humor lead to a memo to those of us who had to work patrol on Halloween.  It was a simple message:

Memo:  When responding to calls, do NOT go to the door and say Trick or Treat.


Unknown said...

Great fun, Phyllis!

Thanks for the great (and fun) history lesson. I love the Halloween scene in "Meet Me in St. Louis" because it shows old Halloween traditions in America that have long since vanished.

Hope everyone has a fun & safe Halloween!

Kathy Ivan said...

Happy Halloween! My goodness, things have certainly changed from when the tradition originally started to today. I love all the costumes and fun associated with Halloween, but not so much the candy left over afterwards. I'm too tempted to eat it!

Vicki Batman, sassy writer said...

I love the last line, Phyllis, about saying no trick or treat line. That's hilarious. I dressed for Jazzercise. However, every day I'm Batman. lol

Phyllis said...

Thank you, Ms. Essex. I don't think I ever saw that movie. Makes me want to look it up.

Happy Halloween to you and yours!

Phyllis said...

Hi Kathy,

Yes, Can you imagine getting donuts as a treat? Now I want to go in search of a chocolate donut!

Phyllis said...

Vicki, I just have to know:
How many members of your family actually dressed as Batman?

I wonder what Mrs. Batman would have worn?

Yep, John always had a joke or two to tell.

Sylvia said...

What a fun post!! I loved learning the history of Halloween. It's a fun day, but it has certainly changed. And I love your line about your cop days. Doughnuts were actually cakes to ward off the dead. Love it. So every time I eat one, I can say I'm warding off the dead. My family will love it.

Phyllis said...

Hi Sylvia!

I just found the more information I discovered, the more interesting Halloween history actually is!

I had to do it....I went out from chocolate covered donuts. Happy Halloween to me!

Karilyn Bentley said...

I love your Sergeant's memo. That's a hoot! I've never heard about the soul cakes before. Great post!

Phyllis said...

Hi Karilyn!

That memo was funny and to make matters interesting, the local newspaper got a copy of that memo and printed it in the paper titled: Trick or Treat for Deputies.

Thanks for stopping by!

Pamela Stone said...

Great history lesson. We had a fantastic trick or treat this year with the granddaughters. Once the three year old learned that all you had to do was say trick or treat and they gave her candy, she had it down. Trick or treat, thank you and on to the next victim. Happy Halloween everyone!!!

Phyllis said...

Hi Pam,

I'm glad the little ones had a great time. It is so precious when they get old enough to really enjoy the evening.

Hope you took plenty of pictures!

Liese said...

Interesting facts, but the most fascinating are the "finger" sandwiches!


Phyllis said...

Hi Liese,

If I was so inspired, I bet I could come up with all sorts of 'weird' foods. Whether you would want to eat them is another story!

Glad you came by.