The Soul for Getting Down: The Spirited History of Halloween Parties

"Happy Halloween", by Marcel Gagné, created using DALL-E 3
"Happy Halloween", by Marcel Gagné, created using DALL-E 3

Feeling a little on edge? Like someone is looking over your shoulder? Do you hear a creaking sound in an otherwise silent room? Wait! Was there something moving in the shadows? You could swear you just heard a low kind of moaning sound, as though the saddest, loneliest creature in the universe were writhing in solitary pain. 

Ready to carve that pumpkin? Ah, the noble jack-o'-lantern—a tradition with teeth! Quite literally, if you're artistically inclined. But did you know that the original lanterns were not pumpkins but turnips? That's right! The Irish, those original Halloween party animals, carved gruesome faces into turnips and placed a light inside. Why? To ward off the nefarious spirits wandering about on All Hallows Eve, of course!

When jack-o'-lanterns were turnips, not pumpkins, and other Halloween  origins | CBC News
From CBC News:

When the Irish immigrants arrived in America, they found the native pumpkin far easier to carve than a rock-hard turnip. So, they adapted, as we do. Now, we've got a ghoulishly delightful tradition that lights up the darkest of nights. So, whether it's a pumpkin or a turnip, light it up and let it shine. Because hey, it's Halloween, and if ever there was a time to celebrate the weird and wonderful, it's now.

Sherman, set the Wayback machine to...

The day after Halloween was once considered one of Christianity’s holiest of days. Enshrined as “All Saints Day” by Pope Boniface IV, the holiday, like many Christian holidays (e.g. Christmas), borrows from earlier Pagan religions. This rite of the church was actually a two day thing, with a preparatory celebration knows as "All Hallows Eve". As such, Halloween was one of the holiest nights of the year, making way to All Saints' Day. It’s sort of like Christmas Eve and Christmas. The following day, November 2nd, became All Souls Day, to honor those who hadn’t quite made it to sainthood. Since the focus of these days is about the dead rather than the various eternal beings (God, Jesus, angels, etc), you get where this whole Halloween death thing comes from.

All Hallows Eve and All Saints' Day is borrowed from the pagan feast of Samhain and comes to us courtesy of the ancient Celts. Samhain is the Gaelic harvest festival. The fields have been harvested, things are starting to look a little dead, and winter is coming. The harvest is cause for celebration but winter, if you don’t have central heating (as with the ancients Celts), isn’t all that exciting. So the ancients did what most people do when faced with the prospect of some serious downer days.

They threw a party. 

The days got shorter and the air got colder and finally, the winter solstice (which later became the inspiration for Christmas) arrived. The shortest day of the year. So the ancients did what most people do when faced with the darkest gloomiest day of the year prior to it getting brighter and (eventually) warmer. 

They threw a party.

As you can see, whenever people are faced with momentous events, in and out of their control, they throw a party. And now, it’s Halloween. Or Samhain. Or All Hallows Eve. Take your pick. Either way, it’s a great excuse for a party if, as Vincent Price observed in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller, you’ve got the "soul for getting down".

Michael Jackson's "Thriller" on YouTube

Comments? I'd love to read them. In the meantime, Happy Halloween!