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All Hallows Eve

Around the 5th century BC, summer officially ended on October 31 in Ireland. The Irish believed that on this day the disembodied spirits of those who had died the previous year would come back in search of a living body to possess for the next year.

The villagers would dampen their hearths and put out all lights in order to make their homes uninviting to the spirits. They would then dress up in costumes to frighten the spirits away.

The custom of "trick or treating" is believed to have originated in 9th century Europe based on a custom called "soulling."

On October 31, All Souls Day, early Christians would go through the village begging for "soul cakes." The more soul cakes the beggars received, the more prayers they promised to say on behalf of the dead relatives of the people who gave them.

Souls were believed to stay in limbo for long periods of time; with prayers, their journeys were hastened toward heaven.

The tradition of the "Jack-o-Lantern" comes from Irish folklore. According to legend, there was once a man named Jack who was a notorious drunkard and a trickster. He tricked Satan into climbing a tree and quickly carved an image of a cross in the trunk, trapping the devil in the tree.

Jack made a deal that if Satan were to never tempt him again, he would let him out of the tree. But upon Jack's death, he was not allowed into heaven because of his evil ways; nor was he allowed into hell because he had tricked Satan.

Instead, the devil gave Jack a single ember to light his way through eternal darkness. This ember was kept inside a hollowed-out turnip to keep it glowing longer. Thus the Irish used turnips as their Jack-o-Lanterns.

When immigrants came to America, they found that pumpkins were more plentiful and so carved pumpkins with a single candle inside for their Jack-o-Lanterns.


Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the caldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork and bling--worms sting,
Lizard's leg and howlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and caldron bubble.
Cool it with a baboon's blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.

Macbeth: IV.i. 10-19; 35-38
William Shakespeare


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This page was last updated October 21, 2003.