CHARLOTTE, N.C.: Bet you thought Ireland was just about pots of gold at the end of rainbows and leprechauns. If so, today’s trivia will shed new light on the Emerald Isle as it is also the place responsible for Halloween. Today we focus on the trivial side of All Hallow’s Eve.
For starters, the name “Halloween” is a simple derivation from the combination of two words, “Hallow” and “Evening.” When the word “evening” is shortened to its poetic form of “e’en” and combined with “hallow,” voilà! You get “Hallow-e’en.”
Halloween in ancient Ireland
The tradition of Halloween began in ancient Ireland when Ireland’s Celts believed that on the night before the new year the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. One result was that late in the harvest season on October 31, the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain was held to celebrate the return of the dead to earth.
Over the centuries, the ritual became less solemn, evolving into a secular tradition featuring children’s activities such as trick-or-treating. When Irish immigrants began migrating to America in the 19th century, the tradition of making lanterns for the festival of Samhain had generally been carried on by carving out turnips, potatoes or beets and placing candles in the hollowed out vegetable shells.
During the time of that massive wave of Irish immigrants, the large squashes known as pumpkins were often considered a nuisance for farmers of the day to get rid of rather than to cultivate. As it turned out, the American substitute for those lantern-ready but useful turnips, potatoes and beets is the unwanted and unloved pumpkin, which was a win-win situation for everyone involved.
Farmers could now actually sell pumpkins to generate an additional source of revenue, while those still-inexpensive, giant orange squashes themselves provided more surface area for carving out those lanterns, leading to the far more inventive designs we see today.
Eventually, pumpkin sales were booming across the country, and became even more substantial when it was discovered that the meat inside those huge orange gourds could also be transformed into delicious pies. Just a bit of food for thought from Ireland.
The Jack o’ Latern
According to Irish legend, a “jack-o-lantern” is from a folk story about a man named “Stingy Jack.” Jack made a deal with the devil and thought he had won. But alas, the devil always wins.
Stingy Jack was left to wander the world for eternity with only an ember of hellfire for light.
Costumes have long been a traditional Halloween custom. But in recent years, the ritual of dressing up and wearing outlandish clothing has become as popular with adults as it has been with children. Perhaps even more so.
But in Alabama, however, don’t go out disguised as a priest because it is against state law. Section 13A-14-4 of the Alabama penal code declares that “Fraudulently pretending to be a clergyman” will get you arrested and fined. When it comes to the law they are “nun” too serious about this in Alabama.
Halloween’s sweet side
What about all that Halloween candy? How did that work its way into the Halloween saga?
Believe it or not, the established tradition of Halloween in the United States is only about a century old. Back in the 1920s and ’30s, it wasn’t just kids who were going door to door for treats. That’s because candy was only one of many gifts to visiting ghosts and goblins. Toys and money were also popular.
As time went on, the candy manufacturers saw a bonanza in the making by promoting bite-sized chunks of chocolate, nuts, caramels and the like as a major marketing tool. Instead of handing out expensive full-sized candy bars, individually wrapped mini-versions of a confectioner’s product line quickly hit the market, thus saving money for the treater as well as the hassle of stocking up with a mega-supply of sweets.
Today, this business has become so huge that the National Retail Federation estimates Americans spend approximately $2.2 billion dollars each year on Halloween candy.
And finally, there’s that annual invasion of horror films that are released every October in the run-up to everyone’s favorite spooky holiday. In addition to newer flicks, the movie “Halloween” and all its various sequels and imitators are annual cult favorite as each October 31st approaches. While shooting the original film, the budget for the picture was so tight that producers needed to find the cheapest mask possible for the Michael Meyers character.
The economy turned out to be a mother of inspiration.
The original model for this now-immortal mask: A William Shatner Star Trek mask. But obviously, it needed some alterations. First, the eyebrows were removed along with the sideburns. The hair was teased out and the eyes were opened wider and reshaped with scissors. The face was painted flat white. In the end, the finished product became one of the most iconic masks in history.
Shatner himself didn’t even know he was the model. Learning that this smash-hit Halloween mask was based on his image years later, he said that he was honored to have become such an integral part of Halloween lore.
Boogey, boogey, boogey!
*Cartoon by Branco. Reproduced with permission and by arrangement with LegalInsurrection.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
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