The spookiest celebration is associated with black and orange, but maybe we should throw a little green into the mix, too.

When you start digging into history of Halloween, you never know what interesting people you might meet. Sure enough, it didn’t take us long to run into this guy.

Now while he does look a little forbidding, and reminded us of other wicker men that weren’t very cool (they give a new layer of meaning to “Burning Man”), this gentle farmer (or whatever he was) didn’t scare us. He was simply an ambassador for the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life.

Tucked into the remote, foggy, boggy Western side of Ireland (it’s great!), the National Museum is a good place to start a search about Halloween because it’s basically where the holiday was invented. Oh, and it has exhibits like this:

Behind that case are masks from the 1840s when the Irish were probably still using turnips as Jack-O’-Lanterns

[1], but the origin of Halloween goes back way further that, a couple of thousand years, to the Celtic tribes that once inhabited the isle.

They called their festival Samhain then, and as you might guess from where it falls in the calendar year, it began as a harvest festival. Given that the end of October also marks the onset of the harsh season when death and darkness became more prominent for the Celts, they began to add protective rituals, leading to sacrificial bonfires and the wearing of costumes out of animal skins, among other things.[2]

Over the centuries the festival continued to evolve, yielding to the common practice of merging a pagan celebration into a Christian one (in this case, All Saints/All Souls Day), adding visibility and participants to both traditions wherever it was celebrated.

Halloween didn’t really explode in the U.S., though, until the mid-19th Century. That’s when the Irish Potato famine—which affected the poorer western part of the island most severely—resulted in an exodus of Irish, soon-to-be Americans, bringing their storied Halloween traditions with them to their new home (and maybe a few ghosts, too).

These days Halloween has changed into something a lot less life-and-death and a whole lot more fun. And if you really like it, you can plan early—decorations go on sale in August!

With the space remaining to us, we can’t begin to cover the broad scope of the new Halloween, so let’s close with some of our favorite related links. And Happy Halloween from all of us at SSCS!

[1] The word “Jack-O’-Lantern goes back to mid-1600’s.

[2] This information, and a lot more about Halloween history, can be found in this wonderful History Channel post.