Halloween has lots of fascinating traditions. For many of these traditions, their origins are just as remarkable as the practices themselves. Today, we’ll take a look at the heritage behind our favorite Halloween customs.
The Jack O’Lantern
During October, Jack O’Lanterns are everywhere. These carved pumpkins are one of the first signs of autumn in the United States. But you’d probably be surprised to learn that the original Jack O’Lanterns were carved from turnips instead of pumpkins. The practice originated in Ireland and is based on the legend of Stingy Jack. Jack trapped the Devil and only let him go when he promised that Jack would never go to Hell. But when Jack died, Heaven did not want him, either, so he was doomed to roam the earth as a ghost for eternity. To light his way in the world, Jack carved out a turnip and placed a lump of burning coal inside. The Irish, to scare Jack and other evil spirits away, started carving their own turnips and placing candles inside. Since pumpkins are native to America, and more plentiful than turnips, they became the medium of choice for Jack O’Lanterns.
Black cats figure in a lot of Halloween decorations, and people consider it a bad omen when these dark felines cross their path at any time during the year. Why are they feared, though, and how did they come to be associated with Halloween? This tradition goes back to Europe in the Middle Ages when they became associated with witches. Since many accused witches were herbalists, many of them kept cats to keep mice away from their precious healing ingredients. So, cats in general became associated with witches, and it was also believed that a witch could turn herself into a cat. Since the color black was associated with the Devil, black cats became associated with evil. And, when pagan Halloween traditions became associated with witches and dark magic, the black cats went with them.
This tri-colored candy does not have an ancient origin, but it is a big part of Halloween nevertheless. It was first invented in Philadelphia in the 1880s, but it didn’t become really popular until a major candy company began selling it in 1898. At the time, it was called “Chicken Feed” because its shape resembled the corn fed to chickens. Due to its autumnal color scheme, it has always been associated with the autumn season. It became firmly associated with Halloween when trick-or-treating became popular in the 1950s.