Things change. They adapt and adopt. Halloween was once All Hallows’ Eve in most of Britain. Other times and places knew it as the Day of the Faithful Departed, All Soul’s Day and the Day of the Dead. It was a day set aside for those Christians who had died, sins unpurged, and now languished in Purgatory. By offering up prayers and good deeds in atonement, sometimes called indulgences, one could help a loved one or friend be transferred to heaven.
The telling thing about deeply rooted traditions is that they survive even cataclysmic changes. They morph. Though the Romans imported Parentalia to celebrate the end of harvest and to honor the dead during their occupation of Britain, the Celts, Picts, Gaels and Welsh clung to their ancient Samhain traditions, observing harvest’s end and dark months’ advent together. The dark winter months were a time when the boundaries between our earthly world and the netherworld became thin and porous enough for spirits and fairies to cross over readily. The souls of the dead were said to revisit their earthly homes seeking sustenance and redemption. Householders laid table places for them before retiring and lit candles to show them way out of darkness.
The Middle Ages brought the custom of souling, when groups of individuals would travel from parish to parish singing and begging soul cakes, fruit or coins as alms to give to the poor in the name of the wealthy. In exchange, the soulers would say prayers for the rich giver, his kith and kin to lessen their time in Purgatory. In some places, children were sent to do the begging disguised in one fashion or another. Such are the roots of Halloween and the door to door begging of treats or indulgences in exchange for a consideration.
It is the Gaels we can thank for the Jack O’Lanterns. There was once an Irish Jack known as a rogue, rascal and utter scoundrel. Ah but he was such a cunning trickster that he dared deceive Beelzebub himself. While drinking together, Jack challenged the infamous Hellion to turn himself into a silver coin to pay for the drinks. The devil, confident of his skills, complied immediately. Jack snatched up the coin and stuck it into a pocket containing a silver cross, which prevented the demon from returning to his normal state. Before Jack would agree to separate the cross and coin, he made the devil swear he would never take Jack’s soul into hell. When Jack finally died, Old Nick kept that oath and refused Jack entry. Naturally, Heaven wouldn’t have him either, so Jack was doomed to wander in the dark forever. When he begged the devil for a light, the host of hell tossed him an ember. Jack put the ember in a hollowed-out pumpkin where it flickers still.
We are the sum of our stories and rituals, so we may as well have a good time with them. Who better than children to show us how? Will you be scared into forking over treats to goblins, witches and miniature celebrities that show up at your door on October 31st? Will your own little ones have helped prepare the goodies? Today’s recipe is courtesy of Pamela Dorgan of Plum Brook Chocolate and is for caramel twists, a quick and easy recipe that will lend a hand to meeting those ghoulish calls.