Jack-o'-Lanterns, candy, and rubber bats, Halloween is this week! We look into Halloween's most familiar symbols, and where they came from. Let's kick off the festivities the spooky way...
With Halloween later this week, we thought it would be a great opportunity to discuss where it all came from. The symbolism, and design of Halloween started all the way back in Ireland, over 2,000 years ago. The traditions have changed over the years, and when Halloween came to America in the 1800's we embraced the festival as a community-centered holiday. So, where did the bats, skeletons, witches, and pumpkins come from? We found out…
The ancient Celts believed that every year before the coming of winter, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. To ward off the presence of the otherworldly spirits, the Druids built huge sacred bonfires, to please the Celtic deities. During these bonfires, the fire light would attract bats. As a result, bats became a symbol of what would later become Halloween.
In traditional Halloween celebrations, skeletons are used as common decorations. The skeleton symbolizes best what Halloween really represents…a day for the dead. Its one of the most common images used during Halloween, but nothing better represents the dead more than a skeleton.
One of Halloween's favorite personas, the witch is derived from the time of the Celtic festival of Samhain (a celebration at the end of harvest season). During Samhain, witches were thought to anoint themselves with a balm that made their face very shiny and light. This ointment would have gave their skin an ethereal appearance, which lead to the rumors of flying. Early witches did carry brooms, but not for flying of course, they were used to cleanse an area before a healing ritual. Due to their beginnings at the festival of Samhain, witches remain a large symbol of Halloween still to this day.
The creation of the Jack-o'-Lantern comes from an Irish Folktale called "Stingy Jack". The story goes..
Jack invited the devil to have a drink with him. He persuaded the devil to change himself into a coin. Jack tricked the devil by trapping him in this form. Jack promised to allow the devil to resume his shape, only if the devil promised to never try to claim his soul. When Jack died he was sent to Hell for his actions. The devil could not claim his soul, so he was sent back into the world. The devil gave Jack a glowing coal to light his way into the darkness. Jack placed the coal into a hollowed-out turnip. We symbolize the tale of Stingy Jack every Halloween by carving out a pumpkin, and lighting it.
There you have it! After all this time, traditions like these are still prevalent in celebrating Halloween. Be sure to remember the stories of how these symbols came to be, and enjoy the Festivities!