Halloween’s history

Stephen Brun
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Chaplin explains how do the spooky things we do Oct. 31

We all expect ghosts, ghouls, goblins, witches and pirates to roam the streets when night falls on Oct. 31.

Emma Alex Arsenault (left), Dylan Zhao, Coby Maund, Adia Laurijs and Elle Pomeray are anxious to show off their costumes and head out trick-or-treating tonight. The youngsters were dressed in costume Tuesday for the annual Halloween party at Precious Lambs Early Years Centre in Summerside. Thousands of Island youngsters will be out in full force this evening, going from door-to-door in costume in search of candy.

But how much do we know about how we came to celebrate All Hallow’s Eve the way we do?

As it turns out, the origins of what we call Halloween are as varied as the treats that fill the bags of costumed children.

“It really emerged, unlike any other festivity or holiday or celebration in the calendar with the possible exception of Mother’s Day, without any state sponsorship… and there’s no church involvement,” said Rev. John Perkin, the Chaplin at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick.

Perkin is an expert on how Halloween came to be what it is today in North America. He’s traced the origins of Devil’s Night to several “strands” of history.

The first is the Celtic harvest festival Sanhain, which dates back to the 5th through 7th centuries. It was known as a time when the Celtics believed the connection between this world and the next was thinner than other times of the year.

“There might be communication with the dead, or supernatural things connected with it – that suspicion of ghouls and ghosts,” he explained. “Lanterns would be a part of this, and typically the lanterns would be carved, perhaps, with a figure of a face on them to commemorate the dead, and a candle placed inside.”

Starting to sound familiar? So that sounds a lot like jack-o’-lanterns, but how about trick-or-treating?

Perkin said that may have been established back in the 12th century in European Christian tradition. The idea was the more prayers that could be generated for a dead relative, the quicker they would be released from purgatory.

See Wednesday's print edition of the Journal Pioneer for more...

Organizations: Celtics, Mount Allison University, Journal Pioneer

Geographic location: New Brunswick, North America

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