Hallowe'en is fast approaching, and here at The Range we thought we'd look into the origins and traditions of this ghoulish celebration. Why do we dress up in funny costumes and kids go door to door yelling "trick or treat"? And what's with the glowing pumpkins? Enquiring minds want to know.

According to the Oxford English Disctionary (OED), the word Hallowe'en first showed up in the 16th century and

represents a Scottish variant of the fuller All-Hallows-Even ("evening"), that is, the night before All Hallows Day.

OK - so what's All Hallows Day? Well, the OED tells us that it is a Roman Catholic holy day, more commonly known as All Saints Day, celebrated on November 1 in Western Christianity, and on the first Sunday after Pentecost in Eastern Christianity, in honour of all the saints, known and unknown. 

So, how do we get from honouring the Saints to pumpkins? I'm still not clear.

We have to look at a pagan tradition to find that link. Samhain was a Gaelic harvest festival held on October 31–November 1. It marked the end of the harvest and had some elements of a Festival of the Dead. Bonfires played a large part in the festivities. It was linked to festivals held around the same time in other Celtic cultures, and was popularised as the "Celtic New Year" from the late 19th century. The date of Samhain was associated with All Saints' Day from at least the 8th century, and both the secular Gaelic and the Catholic liturgical festival have influenced what we now know as Hallowe'en.

Back to the pumpkins; development of artifacts and symbols associated with Hallowe'en formed over time. For instance, the elaborate carving of pumpkins that we now do springs from the custom of carving turnips into lanterns as a way of remembering the souls held in purgatory - during those Festivals of the Dead. Immigrants to North America started used the native pumpkin, which is both readily available and much larger – making them easier to carve than turnips. The American tradition of carving pumpkins is recorded in 1837 and was originally associated with harvest time in general, not becoming specifically associated with Hallowe'en until the mid-to-late 19th century.

Whew! That's a lot of traditions combining into what we celebrate as really just a fun holiday and look at as a chance to wear goofy costumes.

Tomorrow, I'll try to sort out the origins of "trick or treating". And those costumes...