Word Nerd: Halloween Special

29 Oct

Halloween has become an iconic celebration up there with Valentine’s Day and Christmas Eve (I thought more people would be scared by ghosts, goblins and Heidi Klum’s Kali … No? Just me? Alright then).

But where did all of it come from – Marvel heroes roaming the streets with Elsa, Anna and the sheeted ghosts? Why does Halloween mean a cosmetic surgery for pumpkins? And why (WHY) must we part with our candies?

In this edition of Word Nerd, we look at 3 traditions without which it just wouldn’t be Halloween. We explore their rich histories, and in doing so, expand our vocabulary.

1. Samhain (Sow-in)

The Celts, who lived a couple of thousand years ago, in Ireland, UK and France believed that, on 31st October, the dead returned to walk among the living. For them, the day marked the end of summer and the start of winter. Winter, without central heating and smart plugs, must have been a terrifying time of the year. So, they lit bonfires, sacrificed crops and animals to their gods, wore costumes and told each other’s fortunes. Then they returned home with fire from the bonfire to re-light their hearths. They believed that this fire would guard and protect them during the long, dark months.

And then, on 1st November, they celebrated Samhain – the new year.

2. Mumming

This tradition originates from Samhain as well. On this day, people often dressed in animal skins to fool any ghosts and monsters. Food was also left out to soothe hungry spirits (I think that’s a good idea for any day of any month in any year). By the 14th-15th century, performers started to dress up as witches and scary creatures, in exchange for food. Mumming, or trick and treating, is probably THE most anticipated rituals of Halloween today – I think it’s because candies are at stake!

3. Jack o’Lantern

Here’s the story. Centuries ago, there lived a man named Stingy Jack, who successfully cheated the Devil twice! When he died, the Devil of course wanted nothing to do with him, and neither did God. He was sent away from hell with nothing but a coal to keep him warm. So, stingy as he was, Jack decided to place the coal in a carved turnip, and use that as a lantern. He has roamed the earth ever since.
No one wanted to have anything to do with him. So, the Irish and the Scots would carve turnips and potatoes and place them near the doors to frighten away Stingy Jack or any other evil spirits. And when they landed in the US, they brought their stories and rituals with them. Of course, that’s when they realised that their new home’s native pumpkin made better Jack o‘ Lanterns than turnips ever did.

Do you have any good stories and interesting words for Halloween? Tell us in the comments.

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