The Story of Halloween as Told in the 1900's

Hallowe’en or All Hallow Even, the name given of October 31, and the eve of All Saints’ Day (November 1)  is one of the most delightful opportunities for entertaining.  On such a night there should be nothing but laughter, jollity and mystery. It is the night best loved by sprightly little fairies, gnomes, elves, and witches, and is the night of their great anniversary.

Of all nights in the year this is the one upon which supernatural influences most prevail. The spirits of the dead wander abroad, together with witches, devils, and mischief-making elves, and in some cases the spirits of living persons have the temporary power to leave their bodies and join the ghostly crew.

Children born on this day preserve through their youth the power to converse with these airy visitants. But often the latter reveal themselves to ordinary folk, to advise or warn them. Hence it is the night of all nights for divination. Impartially weighed against the others, it is the very best time of the whole year for discovering just what sort of a husband or wife one is to be blessed withal.

Hallowe’en is a curious recrudescence of classic mythology, Druidic beliefs, and Christian superstitions. On November 1 the Romans had a feast to Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, and it was then that the stores laid up in the summer for use in the winter were opened. Hence the appropriateness of the use of nuts and apples at this time. November 1 or thereabouts was also the great autumn festival to the sun which the Druids celebrated in thanksgiving for their harvest.

November was also one of the quaternary periods when the Druids lighted their bonfires in honor of Baal. The custom was kept up in many portions of Great Britain until a” comparatively recejit period. Wales was especially tenacious of it, and the observances which marked the November fire may be held to have descended directly from the Druids. Each family used to make its own fire; and, as it was dying out, each member would throw a white stone into it, the stones being marked for future identification. Then all said their prayers and went to -fe^’d, and in the morning they tried to find all the stones again. If any stone was missing, it betokened that the owner of it would die within a year. Some superstitions are pretty and picturesque and attractive; tHis was one of the many that were cruel as well as picturesque. It would take but a slight accident to cause a fright that might be actually dangerous to a superstitious person, and it would not be hard for an enemy of such a person to cause that fright by stealing his stone from the fire.

These fires in Wales were commonly followed by feasting on nuts, apples, and parsnips, and by games.    Sometimes nuts were thrown into the fires, in the belief that they indicated prosperity to those who threw them if they burned well, and the reverse if they simply smoldered and turned black.    There were fires also in Scotland, and there, in some parts of the country at least, the ashes were carefully raked into a circle and just within this the stones were placed, one for each person present. If in the morning any of these appeared to have been disturbed, it betokened death. Sometimes it was the custom to make large torches by binding combustible material to the tops of poles and to bear them blazing about the village, lighting new ones as often as the old were burned out. Fires were also used at different times and places on All Saints’ Night, which is the eve of All Souls’ Day, and on All Souls’ Day itself, the 2nd of November.  In these cases the fires were regarded as typical of immortality, and were thought to be efficacious, as an outward and visible sign at least, for lighting souls from purgatory.


On this night the peasants in Ireland assemble with sticks and clubs, going from house to house, collecting money, bread-cake, butter, cheese, eggs, etc., for the feast, repeating verses in honor of the solemnity, demanding preparations for the festival in the name of St. Columb Kill, desiring them to lay aside the fatted calf and to bring forth the black sheep.. The good women are employed in making the griddle-cakes and candles; these last are sent from house to house in the vicinity, and are lighted up on the (Saman) next day, before which they pray, or are supposed to pray, for the departed soul of the donor. Every house abounds in the best viands it can afford; apples and nuts are devoured in abundance; the nut-shells are burned and from the ashes many strange things are foretold; cabbages are torn up by the root; hemp-seed is sown by the maidens, and they believe if they look back they will see the apparition of the man intended for their future spouse; they hang a smock before the fire, on the close of the feast, and sit up all night, concealed in a corner of the room, convinced that his apparition will come down the chimney and turn the smock; they throfr a ball of yarn out of the window, and wind it on the reel within, convinced,that if they repeat the Pater Noster backward, and look at the ball of yarn without, they will then also see his apparition:  they dip for apples in a tub of water, and endeavor to bring one up in the mouth; they suspend a cord with a cross-stick, with apples at one point, and candles lighted at the other, and endeavor to catch the apple, while it is in a circular motion, in the mouth.

If in the word Saman the Irish preserve a distinct evidence of Druidism, on the other hand in the drink called “lambs-wool” they equally confess the Roman intermixture. Lambs-wool is made by bruising roasted apples and mixing them with ale or sometimes with milk. The ” Gentleman’s Magazine” for May, 1784, says: “This is a constant ingredient at a merrymaking on Holy Eve.” Vallency makes a shrewd etymological guess when he says;. “The first day of November was dedicated to the angel presiding over fruits, seeds, etc., and was therefore named La Mas Ubhal—that is, the day of the apple fruit,—and being pronounced ‘ lamasool,’ the English have corrupted the name to ‘ lambs-wool’.  The “angel presiding over fruits, seeds, etc,” was obviously a reminiscence of Pomona.

Everybody is familiar with Burns’s famous poem “Hallowe’en,” which gives a panoramic insight into the customs of Old Scotia on this night of mirth and mystery. Perhaps no influence has done more than this to preserve and spread these observances among English-speaking folk.

But what was once a ceremony of belief has now become a thing of sport, of welcome sport in a day of such serious thought and work and sense of responsibility that any excuse for sport should be laid hold of; so that now its observances are all a jest which young people lay upon themselves, not in the least believing in the consequences, only half hoping there may be something in it, and saying to themselves that stranger things have happened.

Hallowe’en has become so popular among the schools and colleges that each in turn tries to outdo the other, and the night is given over to the pranks of the students, and the sounds of revelry are heard issuing from residence hall, chapter-house, and around the grounds of the school or college.