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In recent years, Halloween has become a tradition which is celebrated all over the world. Every year on October 31st, children and grownups alike dress up as monsters.
Its origins goes back as far back as Roman time, back then they would hold a special feast for Pomona, the goddess of plenty, on October 31st. Later an ancient order of Celtic Priests in Britain, also known as Druids, adapted the feast as a way to honor Samhain, lord of the Dead.
The Druids chose October 31st as a day of sacrifice to their God, because they strongly believed that the night before the first day of November, Samhain called together all wicked souls and spirits who had been condemned to live in the bodies of animals and the Druids hoped that the sacrifices made would protect them from these wicked souls and spirits, whom they feared. The Druids also believed that cats were holy animals, or rather people who had been punished for their evil deeds by being turned into a cat. This might explain why cats have in later years become commonly associated with not only Halloween, but also witches who are in a sense “evil doers”.
The name “Halloween” was not used to describe the holiday until the 16th century, when the Catholic Church decided that it would be celebrated as a “Christian” feast in an attempt to make October 31st into a holy evening. Before this, it had been known as All Hallows Eve which subsequently was abbreviated as “Halloween”.
The origin of the Halloween custom Trick or Treating and carving out pumpkins (Jack-o’-lanterns) is a different story though, which comes from Ireland.
In the olden days, Irish farmers would go from house to house and beg for food in the name of their God. The food was to be used in a village celebration of Halloween. The famers would wish good luck on everyone who donated food and threaten anyone who didn’t, telling them “You treat me, or else I will trick you!”. The tradition most likely immigrated to the United States with the Irish immigrates in the 19th century and the term “Trick or Treat” was first used in 1935.
“Jack-o’-lanterns” was originally a term used for night watchmen, or a man with a lantern. Irish folklore tells the story about a man named Stingy Jack, a man who liked to drink and play tricks on everyone. He tricked the Devil to climb into a tree and then placed crosses all around the tree’s trunk, successfully trapping the Devil in the tree. Jack made a deal with the Devil, he would remove the crosses and let the Devil down if he promised not to take Jack’s soul when he died. The Devil complied and the deal was sealed.
Years later when Jack died, he was denied access to Heaven because of his deal with the Devil, but he was unable to go to hell because the Devil had promised not to take Jack’s soul. Jack was now dammed to walk to earth with no resting place in sight. In the dark, he would light his way with a hollowed out turnip that was light by an ember from the flames of hell.
On Halloween, the Irish would put hollowed out turnips, potatoes, beets and other vegetables with a lit candle in them outside their houses and farms, to ward off evil spirits and keep Jack away from their homes. When the Irish immigrated to America, they found that pumpkins were bigger and better to carve out and use as lanterns, so they became the traditional jack-o’-lantern.
Halloween was not celebrated in Japan until recent years, the only similar holiday celebrated was O-Bon. O-Bon is a Japanese Buddhist event which is celebrated in either July or August and is meant to honor the memory of dead relatives by placing food and water in front of a picture of the deceased. This holiday is not unlike the Mexican Day of the Dead.