Students Treated to Halloween History Event

The Celtic origins of Halloween were discussed among students at a lecture held in the French Hall by Dr. John Ellis, a history professor, on Tuesday, October 24th.

When asked about what made him want to hold the lecture, Dr. Ellis said, “I thoroughly enjoy talking about my Celtic roots and people need to know about how most of these traditions started.”

A majority of the things we do on Halloween have changed since the ancient Celts created the Halloween holiday, but a plethora of things still have the same basis. According to Dr. Ellis, the Celts were a tribal people that dealt with livestock, made up legends and myths, and were the first to celebrate Halloween. They looked at the year in two halves: the dark half and the light half. Halloween was a time of feast to celebrate the transition from the light half going into the dark half.

The Celts thought Halloween had massive supernatural power and the line between life and death intermixed for that day. Multiple tribes would get together and play games, eat food, talk politics, and make decisions for the next half of the year. They would have huge bonfires on hilltops for Halloween fun and also to prevent the negative energy and spirits, described Dr. Ellis.

To also prevent spirits and supernatural happenings, the Celts would take many measures for Halloween so none of their people would get possessed or killed. They would go to their intellectuals, poets, healers, wizards and important figures, called Druids, for help.

According to Dr. Ellis, Druids would do sacrifices to the “other world” by throwing certain things, like swords, silver, and clothes in the towns lake. Thus, today we refer to the, “coin in the fountain” commonality. The Druids are also rumored to have sacrificed people and white horses.

Celts were so worried about spirits during this time of year, so they would cover doorways and windows with carved turnips that would be gorged out and filled with burning coals, similar to Jack-o-Lanterns today. According to Dr. Ellis, when Irish immigrants migrated to Ellis Island in the 1800s, they brought their families traditions, and pumpkins were more accessible than turnips, and thus started that holiday trend.

“[I’m] Very glad we transitioned to pumpkins because carving turnips is difficult and I am sure no one wants soot on their face, so I love the modern Halloween activities,” said Dr. Ellis.

The Celts also started the tradition of trick-or-treating, but instead of chocolate candy, soul cakes were given. Soul cakes are scone-like pastries that were made for Halloween. Children would cover their faces with soot and would dress up as different people, just like our costumes today. Everything was legal on Halloween, so people would try to put some tribes’ bonfires out and steal families turnip lanterns as tricks for personal enjoyment, Dr. Ellis explained.

Also, ever wondered where football came from and why fall is football season? It is another Celt tradition.

Every peasant household had a pig. Peasant households would feed the family pig scraps and would make it bountiful, big, and strong by the end of the Celtic first half of the year. But, around the day of Halloween, pig stickers, also known a town’s butcher, would go house to house, killing the family pig and cutting it in sections for preserving meat for the winter. Then, the pig’s bladder would be inflated and the men of two separate towns would throw the inflated bladder in the air. The men would then battle for it until fatigued. The last person with the bladder would keep it until next Halloween with bragging rights, of course, said Dr. Ellis.