A brief his­tory of Hal­loween

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - LIFE - Bob Bey­fuss Gar­den Tips Bob Bey­fuss lives and gar­dens in Schoharie County. Send him an e-mail to rlb14@cornell. edu.

This Mon­day we cel­e­brate Hal­loween, one of the most pop­u­lar cel­e­bra­tions in Amer­ica. Like other mod­ern cel­e­bra­tions, the ori­gins of Hal­loween are some­what ob­scure. Ac­cord­ing to the Mer­riam-Web­ster’s En­cy­clo­pe­dia of World Re­li­gions, de­spite the con­no­ta­tion of “All Hal­lows Eve”, which has Chris­tian af­fil­i­a­tions, the ori­gin is more typ­i­cally linked to the Celtic fes­ti­val of Samhain, ac­cord­ing to the BBC, which comes from the Old Ir­ish for “sum­mer’s end”. It was held on, or about Oct. 31 to Nov. 1 and kin­dred fes­ti­vals were held at the same time of year by the Celts. Samhain is men­tioned in some of the ear­li­est Ir­ish and Welsh lit­er­a­ture. The names have been used by his­to­ri­ans to re­fer to Celtic Hal­loween cus­toms up un­til the 19th cen­tury and are still the Gaelic and Welsh names for Hal­loween.

Samhain marked the end of the har­vest sea­son and be­gin­ning of win­ter or the ‘darker half’ of the year. It was seen as a lim­i­nal time, when the spir­its or fairies could more eas­ily come into our world and were par­tic­u­larly ac­tive. At Samhain, it was be­lieved that the spir­its of fairies needed to be “gifted” to en­sure that the peo­ple and their live­stock sur­vived the win­ter. Of­fer­ings of food and drink, or por­tions of the crops, were left for them. The souls of the dead were also said to re­visit their homes. Places were set at the din­ner ta­ble or by the fire to wel­come them.

In mod­ern Ire­land, Scot­land, Mann and Wales, the fes­ti­val in­cluded mum­ming and guis­ing, the lat­ter of which goes back at least as far as the 16th cen­tury. This in­volved peo­ple go­ing house-to-house in cos­tume (or in dis­guise), usu­ally recit­ing verses or songs in ex­change for

food. It may have come from the Chris­tian cus­tom of soul­ing or it may have a Gaelic folk ori­gin, with the cos­tumes be­ing a means of im­i­tat­ing, or dis­guis­ing one­self from, the spir­its. In Scot­land, youths went house-to-house on October 31 with masked, painted or black­ened faces,

In the Celtic-speak­ing re­gions they were par­tic­u­larly ap­pro­pri­ate to a night upon which su­per­nat­u­ral be­ings were said to be abroad and could be im­i­tated or warded off by human wan­der­ers. The tra­di­tional il­lu­mi­na­tion for pranksters abroad on the night in some places was pro­vided by turnips, hol­lowed out to act as lanterns and of­ten carved with grotesque faces to rep­re­sent spir­its or gob­lins. Th­ese were com­mon in parts of Ire­land and the Scot­tish High­lands in

the 19th cen­tury In the 20th cen­tury they spread to other parts of Eng­land and be­came gen­er­ally known as jack-o’-lanterns.

Of course to­day, the stan­dard fruit for carv­ing into jack-o’-lanterns are pump­kins. Pump­kins lend them­selves quite nicely to this cus­tom and it baf­fles me how turnips could have been hol­lowed out in any sim­i­lar fash­ion in past years. Pump­kins that are hol­lowed out will soon rot of course, but those that are only painted with the ap­pro­pri­ate scary faces may last un­til Christ­mas if prop­erly cured. Cer­tain win­ter squash, in­clud­ing pump­kins, Hub­bard, but­ter­cup or acorn squash will last much longer if they are cured be­fore be­ing stored. Cur­ing is ac­com­plished by sub­ject­ing them to warm tem­per­a­tures for up to two weeks,

70 to 80 de­grees is fine. After that, they will keep at room tem­per­a­ture quite nicely and even longer if kept at around 50 de­grees. You should eat your acorn squash first, fol­lowed by but­ter­nut and but­ter­cup. Hub­bard squash store long­est over the win­ter, along with pump­kins.

If you want to make a pump­kin pie, keep in mind that most pump­kin pies are made from but­ter­nut squash and not pump­kin. Pump­kin flesh is gen­er­ally too stringy to make a good pie, whereas but­ter­nut is just as sweet and has a bet­ter tex­ture. Small pump­kins can be hol­lowed out and used as bowls for soup for a fes­tive touch.

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