A Little Halloween History

Posted by Brian Pietrus on Oct 24, 2016

Halloween banner

The History of Halloween

Every holiday has its own traditions. Pumpkin carving is inseparably linked to Halloween, much as fireworks are part of the 4th of July or decorated trees are part of Christmas. Every year, countless individuals all around the world carve frightening, silly, or otherwise over-the-top faces into hollowed-out pumpkins. Most people have fond memories of carving pumpkins as a child, perhaps while drinking apple cider and eating sweets, but have you ever stopped and wondered how this custom came about? The tradition of using pumpkins dates back to the 1800s when All Hallows’ Eve was introduced in the United States by Irish and Scottish immigrants, but the practice of carving and illuminating vegetables has a much earlier origin than that.

The supposed origin story is believed to stem from a 17th-century Irish myth involving a trickster named Stingy Jack. He summoned the devil but conned his way out of having to forfeit his soul. When Stingy Jack died, he couldn’t get into heaven because he’d struck a deal with the devil, but the devil couldn’t take him, either. He was stuck between heaven and hell with nothing to guide his way but a single burning coal in a carved out turnip. As the story goes, Jack was doomed to wander aimlessly through the night for all eternity, carrying that carved turnip and casting its candle light inside across the Irish countryside. Stingy Jack was called Jack of the Lantern in various retellings of the myth, which became “jack-o-lantern” over time. It became a tradition in Ireland and Scotland for children to excitedly carve and display their own turnips and potatoes, giving them scary faces to keep the spirit of Stingy Jack away from their homes. These hollowed out turnips with burning candles were also used by adults, who needed lanterns to guide them through the streets during the celebration of Samhain (the Gaelic festival that preceded Halloween). Samhain was a celebration of the harvest, but it was also believed to be a time when the worlds of the living and the dead were easily crossed by spirits. This gave rise to the association of ghosts and demons with Halloween and a perceived need to scare them away. Because pumpkins are plentiful in the United States, the tradition quickly evolved to incorporate carved pumpkins, which are a better canvas for creating large, ghoulish faces. To this day, children still leave their carved, illuminated jack-o-lanterns out on display to frighten any travelers along the road (especially Jack’s spirit) who see their glowing expressions cutting through the dark.

Ideas for Festive Halloween Celebrations

Over time, Halloween has become a playful occasion. The early celebrants of Samhain got together with their friends and neighbors, gathering for a town-wide celebration and leaving out food and beverages to appease the spirits who wandered the Earth. Contemporary celebrants of Halloween dress up as ghosts, demons, and monsters to claim offerings of candy from their neighbors while trick-or-treating. It’s also become a custom to host or attend a Halloween party every year. Some people spare no expense when it comes to decorating their homes for parties, often going so far as to design their own domestic haunted houses.

If you have a flexible budget, there’s no end to the incredible decorations and themes you can incorporate into your home party. Life-like cadavers, plastic skeletons, faux graveyards, and even animatronic monsters are all common sights at Halloween. If you’re working with a tighter budget, though, you may feel like your options are limited. Fortunately, with a simple at-home printer and some printer paper, you can create a festive party atmosphere without spending much money at all.

Tips on Hosting a Halloween Party While on a Budget

When you think of home-made decorations, you probably think of using crayons or markers and construction paper to festoon a room with unimpressive signs and poorly-drawn cutouts. However, making your own decorations doesn’t have to look quite so, well, homemade. Using a printer at home can really increase the range of your design options, and when you combine these decorations with traditional party games, there’s so much you can do.

Carving Pumpkins

carving pumpkins

You can make your own jack-o-lantern to keep Stingy Jack away from your home using just a pumpkin, a knife, and your printer. If you have strong drawing skills, you can opt to design your own pumpkin face. If not, you can download some free pumpkin stencils online and print them at home using your printer. Then you just have to cut out the stencils, trace them onto your pumpkin, and cut accordingly. Never let children carve pumpkins without proper adult supervision, though, as children could easily injure themselves or others.

Printing Halloween Party Invitations

printed invitations

You can’t host a party without inviting guests. Sure, you could simply text your friends to invite them to your shindig, but a printed invitation feels much more exciting to receive. It’s also a great way to keep the date, time, address, and other pertinent information all readily available. If you’re throwing a themed party, there are a number of themed invitations you can print, like an invitation that’s specifically for a cupcake designing party. Alternatively, you could simply print out a blank invitation template and customize your invitations to say whatever you want. However you decide to invite your friends, make it an evening to remember by hanging festive decorations, organizing fun activities, and serving tasty snacks.

Halloween Party Decorations

Halloween decor

There are countless decorations that you can print at home and cut out. You can print out a hanging or flying bat template, trace it on black construction paper, and use string to hand the paper bats from your ceiling. You can do the same with rats as well, leaving a paper trail of them stuck to your walls along the floor in every room. You can make a larger decorative banner, like this “Beware” sign that can be strung together and suspended above your doorway. You can also design and print Halloween-themed labels for the food and beverages you leave out. There are blank labels that let you write whatever you want on them, silhouette labels for topping cupcakes or affixing to goodie bags, and even fake “poison” labels you can put on beverage containers. You can also search online for free apothecary labels to put on your spice jars and beverage containers to make your kitchen or living room feel like a creepy mad scientist’s home.

For a really eerie effect, you can print out an image of a spooky house (your own or a landmark home from a horror movie), cut it out, and wrap it around a glass votive holder for a delightful candle holder that looks like a well-lit home. Just remember to never leave a lit candle unattended. In fact, you may want to avoid lit candles altogether and opt for a battery-powered votive candle instead.

Bobbing for Apples

apple bobbing

Bobbing for apples is a simple and long-standing tradition at Halloween parties. The practice originated with the British as a sort of courting practice. Young, unmarried people would all try to grab floating apples using only their mouths, and it was believed that the first person to successfully catch an apple would be the first person to be married. Today, it’s simply a fun, all-ages game that requires very little money or effort to set up. Simply fill a clean, large tub or basin with clean water and drop enough apples in it so that every player can have one. Everyone takes turns holding their arms behind their back, trying to bite an apple out of the water without using their hands.

Making Halloween Snacks

Halloween snacks

There’s no end to the list of options for Halloween-themed snacks you can make and share at your party. You may choose to modify your own existing recipes to make them more Halloween appropriate (by using food dye, for example), or you may want to start from scratch. There are many recipes online for Halloween-themed cupcakes, cookies, cakes, and even main courses. A fun way to swap recipes is to invite your guests to bring a Halloween dish and enough printed copies of the recipe to go around. At the end of the night, everyone tastes one another’s creations and gets a copy of each recipe to take home.

Now that you know a little more about the origins of Halloween and you’ve gotten some ideas for how to host a frightfully fun party, it’s time to flex your creative muscles. Your decorations can be spooky, funny, or anything in between. However you decide to decorate your home, make it your own and let your creative impulses take over. Just be sure to have enough candy on hand for trick-or-treaters, or Stingy Jack won’t be the only spirit lurking outside your front door!