Uncovering the ‘ghosts’ of Halloween’s past

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Kevin Wallace
  • Special: Originally ran Oct. 26, 2007
The hands of the old clock stand vertical as tiny ghoulish creatures pass to and fro', their heads measuring eye to eye with the ghostly fog, snaking around the buildings, houses and yards. The streets of Eagle Heights, which were once the pride of the command for their beautiful houses and landscaping, now resemble a grave yard scene.

Halloween comes to touch Dover Air Force Base again Sunday. Though the festivities of the occasion are well known to most Americans, the history of Halloween is vague.

Halloween is a holiday celebrated the night of Oct. 31. Traditionally, Airmen and their families partake in activities such as trick-or-treating, costume parties, Halloween festivals, visiting 'haunted houses,' watching horror films and traditional autumn activities such as corn mazes, haunted woods and hayrides.

History of Halloween

According to Ireland-information.com, the day originated with the Celts of Ireland and Scotland, and was called Samhain. Traditions of the Pagan festival were carried by Irish and Scotsmen when they migrated to the U.S. in the 19th century, most of the western world embraced the day as a holiday.

The term Halloween is shortened from All-hallows-even, as it is the evening before 'All Hallows' Day or All Saints' Day. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, All Saints' Day is celebrated on Nov. 1. It is instituted to honor all the saints, and to supply any deficiencies in the church's celebration of saints' feasts during the year.

Jack duels the Devil

According to Irish legend, carving pumpkins dates back to the eighteenth century and to an Irish blacksmith named Jack, who colluded with the Devil and was denied entry to Heaven.

Jack, a damned soul, was condemned to wander the earth but asked the Devil for some light. He was given a glowing goal which he placed inside a turnip that he hollowed out. Out of this legend, the tradition of Jack O' Lanterns was born.

When Irish immigrated to American, there was not a great supply of turnips so pumpkins were used instead.

Dawning costumes

Jack O' Lanterns are not the only Halloween tradition rooted in the Emerald Isle.

Legend would have it, dating back to Celtic times, on Halloween night, when the living and the dead were at their closest, Celtic Druids would dress up in elaborate costumes to disguise themselves as spirits and devils in case they encountered other devils and spirits during the night.

With a nod to that history, today's children dress up in scary costumes and go house to house crying 'Trick or Treat' at each door. Although children today do not disguise themselves to avoid being carried away at the end of the night, those roots explain why witches, goblins and ghosts remain the most popular choices for costumes today, according to ireland-information.com.

A night of fun

For a large number of American's, Halloween is a night for children to trick or treat for candy and for other fall festivities and does not carry a religious meaning at all.

For most, the night is exciting and fun.

Familiar sounds being to fill the air.

"Darkness falls across the land. The midnight hour is close at hand...," the sounds of Michael Jackson spin on a record player and flow from an Eagle Heights resident's window. "... And though you fight to stay alive, your body starts to shiver. For no mere mortal can resist the evil of the thriller."

Could the days of Pagan Druids be upon Dover?

Surely, not.

Still, on Oct. 31, a look around Dover will reveal children and adults, clothed in creepy, chilling costumes, in much the same fashion the Irish and Scottish have dressed for this holiday for many years.