In accordance with the old traditions, it’s time to take out your turnip and carve it into a terrifying shape in order to scare away the souls of the wandering dead.
This is the real story of Halloween.
In Celtic times, the pagan festival of Samhain was celebrated at the start of November, marking the end of the growing and reaping season and the start of winter. On this day it was said that the souls of those who had died during the year went down to the otherworld while the ghosts of those already there left, (presumably to make room for the new arrivals) and wandered the earth looking to visit their former homes.
In order to hide from them, people would dress up in costumes and go from door to door, singing songs and asking for gifts of food.
In the meantime, The Roman Catholic Church held a feast day each year in May to celebrate all the saints who had been received into heaven. It was known as All Saints Day, All Hallows Day or Hallowmass. As they had done with Christmas which was originally the festival of Saturnalia, the church decided to replace the pagan festival of Samhain with a Christian one, so in 837 CE Pope Gregory V ordered that All Hallows Day would now be celebrated on 1 November and the evening before would be All Hallows Eve – or Halloween.
So where do the turnips come in?
Well, from the Irish of course, where else?
It all begins with the Irish folk tale of Stingy Jack, known also as Drunken Jack and Jack O’Lantern, a man renowned for his bad behaviour. To check for himself if these tales were true the devil decided to pay him a visit. So, wandering home from the pub one night Jack saw this horrible horned apparition lying in wait for him and realized the game was up.
“How about one last pint before we go down to hell?” he asked and the devil agreed it was a fair request. So back they went to the pub together, got roaring drunk and Jack persuaded the devil to settle the bill (well this was in Ireland).
As the devil looked for his credit card Jack bolted and ran up an apple tree. The devil followed him but realized that crafty Jack, drunk or not, had surrounded the tree with crucifixes. So off he went in a huff.
When Jack eventually died St Peter refused to let him into heaven and the devil turned him away from hell leaving Jack to wander the earth for all eternity. So, to keep him away the Irish lit fires and lanterns and carved horrible faces out of turnips.
Gradually the tale of Stingy Jack or Jack O’Lantern was absorbed into the new feast of Halloween. Then, when the Irish arrived en masse in America they discovered that carving pumpkins was far easier and produced much more satisfying results than whittling away at turnips.
And that is why you carve pumpkins at Halloween and dress up in costumes to trick-or-treat.
So, a very happy Halloween from all of us at Happy Ali and when you go out tonight don’t forget your turnip.