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Halloween - Inspiration Line Online Magazine

The Pumpkin Effigy — The Ladies Floral Cabinet — September, 1875

[The grinning jack-o-lantern, a blend of Irish tradition and American vegetable, would become the symbol of Halloween in the U.S.]

Halloween, one of the world's oldest holidays, is still celebrated today in several countries around the globe, and has had influences from many cultures over the centuries.
The ancient Celtic festival called Samhain is considered by many to be a predecessor of our contemporary Halloween. Samhain was the New Year's Day of the Celts and was celebrated on November 1st. In early Ireland, people gathered at the ritual centers of the tribes, for Samhain was the principal calendar feast of the year. It was a joyful harvest festival that marked the death of the old year and the beginning of a new one. It was also a day of the dead, a time when it was believed that the souls of those who had died during the year were allowed access to the land of the dead. Many traditional beliefs and customs were associated with Samhain. Most notable was that night was the time of the wandering dead, the practice of leaving offerings of food and drink to masked and costumed revelers, and the lighting of bonfires, continued to be practiced on October 31, known as the "Eve of All Saints," the "Eve of All Hallows," or "Hallow Even."

The tradition of wearing costumes at Halloween has both European and Celtic roots. In ancient times, Winter was an uncertain and frightening season when food supplies often ran low. For many people who feared the dark, the short days of Winter were filled with constant worry. On Halloween, when it was believed that spirits returned to the earthly world, people would wear masks when they left their homes during the night hours. In this way, they would avoid being recognized by the ghosts and be mistaken merely for fellow spirits. During Samhain, Celtic villagers would don costumes to represent the souls of the dead and dance out of town, in the hope of leading the dead along with them. Similarly, in Christian religions, parishioners would dress as their favorite Saints and display relics of these departed souls.

People have been using Jack O'Lanterns at Halloween for centuries. The practice originated from an Irish myth about a man named "Stingy Jack" who was too mean to get into heaven and had played too many tricks on the devil to go to hell. When he died, he had to walk the earth, carrying a lantern made out of a turnip with a burning coal inside. In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack's lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips, rutabagas, or potatoes and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits. Halloween was not widely observed in America during the first few hundred years of settlement. However, when the potato famine in the 1840s in Ireland, brought thousands of Irishman to America, they in turn brought the custom with them. They found the American pumpkin to be an excellent replacement for the turnip. Today, the carved pumpkin is perhaps the most famous icon of the holiday. When the term jack-o'-lantern first appeared in print in 1750, it referred to a night watchman or a man carrying a lantern. Here are a few more interesting facts:

1) Halloween Is The Second Highest Grossing Commercial Holiday After Christmas: What used to be just a singular holiday with minimal things to purchase has turned into an entire "Halloween Season." Between decorative lights and lawn ornaments, elaborate costumes and loads of candy, the average American spends a pretty penny on this fall holiday. However popular Halloween has become, the recession has affected spending for this year's spooky night. Spending is down, according the the National Retail Federation. Shoppers will spend an average of $56.31 on the holiday compared to $66.54 in 2008. Some ways people are cutting down include making homemade costumes, using last year's decorations and buying less expensive candies. For the children's sake, let's hope everyone doesn't resort to giving out apples and pennies. Didn't you just hate that as a kid?

2) Harry Houdini Died On October 31, 1926: The famous magician was killed (accidentally) by a McGill University student named J. Gordon Whitehead who was hitting him in the stomach repeatedly as part of a stunt. A week later he died of peritonitis from a ruptured appendix. Despite acute appendicitis, Houdini refused to seek medical treatment.

3) There's A Phobia For That: Samhainophobia is an intense and persistent fear of Halloween that can cause panic attacks in sufferers. Other relevant phobias for this time of year: wiccaphobia (fear of witches), phasmophobia (fear of ghosts), and coimetrophobia (fear of cemeteries).

4) One Quarter Of All The Candy Sold Annually Is For Halloween Night: Yes, no matter how much we eat for Christmas and Thanksgiving, Halloween has corned the market on candy. As a country we consume 20 million pounds of candy corn a year. Handing out Halloween treats is the perfect excuse to eat some too, as four-in-ten (41%) adults admit that they sneak sweets from their own candy bowl. And if you're a kid, hang on to your basket, because home is where the candy thief is as 90% of parents admit to sneaking goodies from their kids' Halloween trick-or-treat bags. But whether your stealing some, handing out some or having yours stolen, chances are you'll get your hands (or miss getting your hands) on a Snickers bar, it has been the number 1 Halloween candy for years.

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Ireland — Believed to be the birthplace of Halloween... the tradition in Ireland is still celebrated as much as it is in the United States. In rural areas, bonfires are lit as they were in the days of the Celts and children dress up in costumes to spend the evening "trick-or-treating" in their neighborhoods. After the visiting, most people attend parties with neighbors and friends. At these parties, many games are played, including "snap-apple," in which an apple on a string is tied to a doorframe or tree, and players attempt to take a bite out of the suspended apple. In addition to bobbing for apples, parents often arrange treasure hunts with sweets or pastries as the "treasure." The Irish also play a card game where cards are laid face-down on a table with sweets or coins beneath them. When a child selects a card, he or she receives whatever prize might be found there. A traditional food is eaten on Halloween called "barnbrack." This is a type of fruitcake which can be baked at home or store-bought. A muslin-wrapped treat is baked inside the cake which, so it is said, can foretell the future of the one who finds it. If the prize is a ring, then that person will soon be wed and a piece of straw means a prosperous year is forthcoming. Children are also known to play tricks upon their neighbors on Halloween night. One of which is known as "knock-a-dolly," where children knock on the doors of their neighbors but then run away before the door is opened.

Austria: In Austria, some people will leave bread, water and a lighted lamp on the table before retiring on Halloween night. The reason for this is that it was once believed such items would welcome the dead souls back to earth on a night which for the Austrians was considered to be brimming with strong cosmic energies.

Belgium: The Belgians believe that it is unlucky for a black cat to cross one's path and also unlucky if a black cat should enter a home or be brought on a ship. The custom in Belgium on Halloween night is to light candles in memory of dead relatives.

China: In China, the Halloween festival is known as Teng Chieh. Food and water are placed in front of photographs of family members who have departed while bonfires and lanterns are lit in order to light the paths of the spirits as they travel the earth on Halloween night. Worshippers in Buddhist temples fashion paper "boats of the law," some of which are very large, and are then burned in the evening hours. The purpose of this custom is twofold: as a remembrance of the dead and in order to free the spirits of the "pretas" in order that they might ascend to heaven. "Pretas" are the spirits of those who died as a result of an accident or drowning and whose bodies were consequently never buried. The presence of "pretas" among the living is thought by the Chinese to be dangerous. Under the guidance of Buddhist temples, societies are formed to carry out ceremonies for the "pretas," which includes the lighting of lanterns. Monks are invited to recite sacred verses and offerings of fruit are presented.

Czechoslovakia: In Czechoslovakia, chairs are placed by the fireside on Halloween night and families remember the dead by eating special cakes and drinking cold milk "to cool the souls roasting in Purgatory." For the Czechs this is quite a serious holiday, when families gather at cemeteries to pay respects to their ancestors and relatives. It is an extraordinary beautiful time, when all the cemeteries in the land are awash in candlelight and flowers, and in the cool and dark winter evenings the firelight reflects off the snow and makes for a magical experience if you're lucky enough to be a part of it.

England: At one time, English children made "punkies" out of large beet roots, upon which they carved a design of their choice. Then, they would carry their "punkies" through the streets while singing the "Punkie Night Song" as they knocked on doors and asked for money. In some rural areas, turnip lanterns were placed on gateposts to protect homes from the spirits who roamed on Halloween night. Another custom was to toss objects such as stones, vegetables and nuts into a bonfire to frighten away the spirits. These symbolic sacrifices were also employed as fortune-telling tools. If a pebble thrown into the flames at night was no longer visible in the morning, then it was believed that the person who tossed the pebble would not survive another year. If nuts tossed into the blaze by young lovers then exploded, it signified a quarrelsome marriage.

Germany: In Germany, the people put away their knives on Halloween night. The reason for this is because they do not want to risk harm befalling the returning spirits.

Hong Kong: The Halloween celebration in Hong Kong is known as Yue Lan (Festival of the Hungry Ghosts) and is a time when it is believed that spirits roam the world for twenty-four hours. Some people burn pictures of fruit or money at this time, believing these images would reach the spirit world and bring comfort to the ghosts.

India: Mahalaya is a religious ritual in the Hindu community that revolves around awakening dead spirits. The principle meaning of the day is to celebrate the love of spirit, and to stop man's trivial desires. Once the ritual is completed, their souls gain peace for the remainder of the year. On this day, all of those who have died in the region of Yama come back to earth and visit with their mortal descendants. It is celebrated on September 27th, the last day of Aswayuj (a special time that is considered sacred for making offerings to the dead). When darkness falls, the people pray to the Goddess for help against evil demons. Some take sacred baths in the Ganges River, and pray for their deceased relatives. Food also plays an important role in the ceremony; it is essential to offer splendid dishes to the dead. The Hindus consider the human body to be the most important vehicle to get closer to God, and they cannot pray on an empty stomach. Hindu mythology states that the hero, Mahabharata Karan, went to heaven after abandoning human life. Unfortunately thing's did not go as planned. In heaven he found mounds of gold, but there was little food. Apparently, during his mortal life Mahabharata offered many jewels, but limited amounts of food. The hero prayed to God of Death, and was granted his wish: The hero was sent back to earth, where he was given two weeks to correct his errors. During that period he fed the poor, and made the correct offerings. Soon after, he returned to heaven, and found an abundance of food for his new life.

Japan: The Japanese celebrate the "Obon Festival" (also known as Matsuri or Urabon) which is similar to Halloween festivities in that it is dedicated to the spirits of ancestors. Special foods are prepared and bright red lanterns are hung everywhere. Candles are lit and placed into lanterns which are then set afloat on rivers and seas. During the "Obon Festival," a fire is lit every night in order to show the ancestors where their families might be found. "Obon" is one of the main occasions during the Japanese year when the dead are believed to return to their birthplaces. Memorial stones are cleaned and community dances performed. The "Obon Festival" takes place during July or August.

Korea: In Korea, the festival similar to Halloween is known as Chusok. It is at this time that families thank their ancestors for the fruits of their labor. The family pays respect to these ancestors by visiting their tombs and making offerings of rice and fruits. The "Chusok" festival takes place in the month of August.

Mexico, Latin America & Spain: Among Spanish-speaking nations, Halloween is known as El Dia de los Muertos. It is a joyous and happy holiday ... a time to remember friends and family who have died. Officially commemorated on November 2 (All Souls' Day), the three-day celebration actually begins on the evening of October 31. Designed to honor the dead who are believed to return to their homes on Halloween, many families construct an altar in their home and decorate it with candy, flowers, photographs, fresh water and samples of the deceased's favorite foods and drinks. Frequently, a basin and towel are left out in order that the spirit can wash prior to indulging in the feast. Candles and incense are burned to help the departed find his or her way home. Relatives also tidy the gravesites of deceased family members, including snipping weeds, making repairs and painting. The grave is then adorned with flowers, wreaths or paper streamers. Often, a live person is placed inside a coffin which is then paraded through the streets while vendors toss fruit, flowers and candies into the casket. On November 2, relatives gather at the gravesite to picnic and reminisce. Some of these gatherings may even include tequila and a mariachi band, although American Halloween customs are gradually taking over this celebration. In Mexico during the Autumn, countless numbers of Monarch butterflies return to the shelter of Mexico's oyamel fir trees. It was the belief of the Aztecs that these butterflies bore the spirits of dead ancestors.

Scotland: Much like in Ireland, the Festival of Samhain marks the change of season in Scotland. And much like in the United States, children "trick-or-treat," with one exception: they must compete with each other by singing or telling jokes or stories in order to win the treat. One other difference between the Scottish Halloween and the American Halloween is that they use turnips instead of pumpkins. One very Scottish tradition takes place on Halloween and involves single women. According to myth, the women have to peel an apple by candlelight in front of a mirror. If the woman is able to peel the entire apple without tearing the peel, she will see the image of her future husband in the mirror.

Sweden: In Sweden, Halloween is known as Alla Helgons Dag and is celebrated from October 31 until November 6. As with many other holidays, "Alla Helgons Dag" has an eve which is either celebrated or becomes a shortened working day. The Friday prior to All Saint's Day is a short day for universities while school-age children are given a day of vacation.

Thailand: The festival of Phi Ta Khon is a type of procession with music and a parade of masks that accompany the image of the sacred Buddha. During this procession the young village men, dressed up as ghosts and spirits, poke fun at the other villagers as they recite the story of Buddha's last reincarnation. The procession begins in the city of Dan Sai, which is located about 320 miles northeast of Bangkok. The annual festival is celebrated on the first day of the Buddhist holiday known as Boon Para Wate and occurs in May, June or July. The origins of this festival are not quite clear, but it is tied into Buddhist folklore. Legend has it that while in his penultimate life, Prince Vessandorn was away from the country on his travels for so long that his subjects forgot about him. Apparently, they thought he had died. When he returned, the people were so thrilled and celebrated with so much fervor that the spirits awoke and joined the celebration and so the festival of Phi Ta Khon was born.

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