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A lesson in Halloween traditions and in baking Halloween treats
By Johanne McInnis

        Halloween is just around the corner and many of us are already prepared for the small goblins and witches that will be parading from door to door. Well, let's be honest, this year we will see many more Harry Potters or Spidermans than the more traditional costumes. A few years ago I remember asking my best friend's daughter (she is the ripe old age of eight now) what Halloween was all about.

        Her answer, to no surprise, was: "To dress up as a princess and get lots of candy!" We seem to have forgotten over the years what Halloween was really about. It's one of the world's oldest holidays that is still celebrated today. The word 'Halloween', originates from the Catholic Church due to the fact that November 1 is celebrated as 'All Saints Day'. It was also called 'All Hallows Day', so October 31 was called 'All Hallows Eve'. Over the years, it somehow became 'Halloween'.

        So, where do you ask did we begin the custom of going door-to-door for candy? It possibly came from several very old customs. The first of the two most popular customs traces back to the fifth century when the Druids celebrated the end of summer on October 31 with a festival called 'Samhain' (pronounced Sow-in). They believed the dead would play tricks on mankind and cause panic or destruction. To appease them, people would give the Druids food as they visited their homes.

        A ninth century European custom was for people to go door-to-door and go 'souling'. 'All Souls Day' was a Christian holiday celebrated on November 2. The more soul cakes (bread with currants) the beggars received, the more prayers they would promise to say on behalf of the dead relatives of the donors. There was a firm belief then, that the dead stayed in limbo for a time after death and that prayers would expedite the soul of the deceased to heaven.

        Can you imagine carving a potato or turnip as your jack o'lantern? Well, that's what Irish children did. Carving was done on All Hallows Eve to commemorate Jack, a shifty little Irish villain so wicked that neither heaven nor hell wanted him so he was forced to wander the earth in search of a place to rest. With the Irish potato famine that took place between 1845-1870, over 700,000 immigrants landed in the Americas.

        They took most of their traditions and customs with them. At that point turnips and potatoes were not grown in North America so they decided to use the pumpkin; which was indigenous to our western hemisphere and readily available in October. Today, the carved pumpkin is probably the most recognisable icon for Halloween.

        So there you go… very old traditions, customs and beliefs are now celebrated by the very young in a manner our ancestors would surely shake their heads in disbelief about. But then again, today's kids will surely be much happier after their long walks on October 31 with regards to their bag full of candy, after all they could have ended up with a bag full of bread with currants!

        My Halloween recipes can be found on this site under Jo's Kitchen.