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Things that Go Bump in the Night (Posted On: Tuesday, October 17, 2006)

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Halloween is an annual observance which, like so many of our days of celebration, has its roots in ancient traditions. Its origins can be traced back several thousand years to the Celtic peoples of Ireland, Britain and France and their Druid harvest festival called Samhain. This pagan holiday was like our modern New Year’s and marked the end of the summer planting season. People gathered around communal bonfires dressed in costumes made from animal skins while offering sacrificial gifts to their gods to ward off the evil spirits of the dark winter months ahead.

Over the centuries conquering Romans and Christian missionaries adopted and modified the holiday. Later Pope Gregory III proclaimed November 1st All Saints Day to honour the saints of the Church. Throughout Britain the holiday was called All Hallows Day. Thus, October 31st became All Hallows Eve, or Halloween.

These days, Halloween has evolved to be primarily a time for pure simple fun for children and adults alike. Second only to Christmas, it has become a $7 billion industry. That’s a lot of candy, costumes and decorations. And yet because of our continuing fascination with the supernatural, the characters and symbols of Halloween remain central elements of our celebrations. Because of modern literature and movies, we all know about witches, ghosts and vampires. But what about some of those other Things that Go Bump in the Night?

What is a Ghoul? This creature is a monster which comes from ancient Arabian folklore. They reside in graveyards and other uninhabited places like deserts where they were known as shape shifting demons that could take the form of an animal, usually a hyena. Ghouls are also fierce warriors and have a sinister fascination with the macabre. If you choose to dress up as a ghoul this Halloween, you’ll be even more frightening than your standard vampires and zombies.

What is a Goblin? Sometimes called hobgoblins, these are the great pranksters of Halloween. Goblins are grotesque dwarf-like beings with thick unkempt hair and yellowed crooked teeth. When a goblin laughs, milk goes sour and fruit falls from the trees. Other irritating goblin mischief includes hiding small objects, tipping over pails of milk and switching signposts. Goblins like to hang out with ghosts on Halloween. So if your big brother or sister is going as a ghost this year, a goblin costume would certainly be a great idea for you.

The Jack O’ Lantern has long been the most popular Halloween decoration. The practice is based on an old Irish legend about a nefarious character nicknamed “Stingy Jack”. The story goes that Jack once invited the Devil to have a drink with him. When it came time to pay for the drinks, he tricked the Devil into turning himself into a coin. Stingy Jack then took the coin and slipped it into his pocket next to a silver crucifix so the Devil couldn’t escape. He then agreed to free the Devil on the condition that he wouldn’t take his soul. When Jack died, he was denied entry first to Heaven and then to Hell. The Devil cast him into the dark night with just a burning lump of coal to light his way. Jack placed the coal into a carved-out turnip which then became known as a “Jack Of The Lantern”, and then simply as “Jack O’ Lantern”. In Ireland and Scotland people began making their own versions of Jack’s lantern by carving scary faces into turnips and potatoes and placing them in their windows to frighten off Stingy Jack and other wandering spirits. Irish and Scottish immigrants brought their Halloween traditions to North America and soon found that the pumpkin made a perfect Jack O’ Lantern.

Now because Halloween is mostly about having fun, maybe you might want to test your neighbours and friends with one of these Halloween riddles when they come “trick-or-treating” to your door this year.

How do you fix a broken Jack O’ Lantern?

What is a ghost’s favourite ride at the Great Northern Ex?

How do witches keep their hair in place while flying?

What is a vampire’s favourite dog?

What kind of pants does a ghost wear?

Why is it so hard to call a twin witch by her right name?

Happy Halloween!


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