Jack-O’-Lanterns and Trick-or-Treating:
A mix of Pagan and Christian traditions
the beginning of November is approaching. It is slowly becoming colder outside, leaves start falling from the trees, giving the world all the bright colours of autumn.
Autumn calls for cuddling on the couch with a blanket, a book and a nice big mug of hot cinnamon tea, for warmer coats, forest walks, and, unfortunately, also for midterms. Luckily these first exams have passed by now and we hope many of you did well and got off to a good start for this academic year. Autumn is also the season of holidays, starting with Halloween. One of the greatest traditions of autumn, Halloween is celebrated all over the world. Pumpkins, lights, puppets, costumes, candy, it’s all part of the great tradition. The feast is celebrated much more widely in many places in America, than it is in the Netherlands. We have all seen the movies, showing the American celebrations of Halloween, but what are their traditions really?
To find out, we need to dive into the history of the holiday first. Halloween is a contraction of “All Hallows Evening,” or “All Saints Evening,” which basically means “holy evening.” It is a Christianized holiday of the Celtic Harvest Festivals, celebrated to honour the harvest of the year. The three days after the 31st of October are used to honour the dead martyrs, Saints, and other believers who have passed away.Lisa Morton summarizes the whole history of the holiday in one sentence in Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween: "What began as a pagan New Year's celebration and a Christian commemoration of the dead has over time served as a harvest festival, a romantic night of mystery for young adults, an autumnal party for adults, a costumed begging ritual for children, a season for exploring fears in a controlled environment and, most recently, a heavily commercialized product exported by the United States to the rest of the world." I will now discuss two of the main traditions of the American Halloween festival, and their origins: trick-or-treating, and the carving of Jack-O’-Lanterns.
by Jeanne Goossens
Morton, Lisa. Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween. Reaktion Books Ltd, London. 2012.