I was watching a Halloween Special on the Cooking Channel, and I saw a show I remember watching years ago. anyway, I loved the way they explained the history of Halloween, so I wrote it down and put it here for you... with a few recipes as well. I tried to find a video of the show (Called The Secret life of Halloween) but I could not find it online. I hope you enjoy.
In ancient times Celtic tribes celebrated their new year on what we know as November 1st. They called the festival Samhain (Sow-en). The Celts believe that around Samhain the souls of those that have died during the year moved from this world to the next world. When Christianity replaced Paganism, Samhain was replaced by All Hallows Day. October 31st was called All Hallows Evening. Overtime it became Halloween, but the Pagan belief that spirits walk the earth lived on. The sense that restless spirits might be stirring on All Hallows eve gave rise to a medieval ritual with its own special food. Villagers went door to door offering to pray for the souls of the dead in exchange for a sweetened cake. If refused, they were likely to pull a prank. Eventually the sweets became known as soul Cakes. The tradition itself eventually gave rise to Trick-or-treating.
Soul Cakes Medieval Recipe
2 Cups Flour and ½ Cup Sugar mixed together. Form a well and pour in Barm (a yeast mixture made when brewing beer). In a separate bowl stir together 2 Tbsp butter, Ground Cloves, Ground Mace, Ground Nutmeg and Ground Saffron. Add Cider Vinegar and stir together. Spoon the butter mix into the flour and add dried apricots, currants and raisins. Mix the dough with your hands until combined. Flatten with a rolling pin and cut into circles with a cookie cutter. Bake @375Degrees for 15-20 minutes.
The measurements are approximate because medieval recipes were not measured the same way, they were made usually with ‘handfuls’ and ‘pinches’.
The belief that ancestral spirits might stop by for a meal was not unique to the Celtic tribes of Europe. On the other side of the planet Aztecs, Mayans, and other New World civilizations were throwing their own parties for deceased relatives. These traditions live on today as a Holiday known as Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead). This Holiday originated in Mexico more than 400 years ago and takes place around Halloween. When the Spanish came to the new world in the 1500’s, then encountered a month long Aztec festival in which the living welcomed the returning spirits of their dead ancestors. As part of the ritual, the Aztecs put out offerings of corn, squash, and other harvest foods to encourage the spirits to visit. Eventually it was turned into a 9 day Catholic festival that ended on November 2nd (All Saints Day). But the heart of the ancient ritual remained unchanged.
Sugar Skulls for Dia de los Muertos
Families still eagerly welcome ancestral spirits, and still create a generous display to encourage their return. As in the day of the Aztecs, offerings of food are a central element on the alter. Some are the specific foods that the deceased favored during life, while others have age old symbolic meanings. Skulls made of sugar remind us that while death is to be expected, it is also linked to the sweetness of life. And thus it is not to be feared. Chocolate drinks are a legacy of the pre-Hispanic era, when the cacao beans in which chocolate is made were used as currency. A few beans were buried with the dead for souls to use as bribes in the afterworld. Dia de los Muertos is also a feast day for the living.
For most of its history, Halloween was a year-end harvest festival. When the Celts got the party started with their ritual of Samhain the favored entrée was roast goose. The Celts also enjoyed a bountiful supply of freshly gathered barley, wheat, turnips and apples. The menu changed with the arrival of Roman Catholicism. All hallows eve became a fast day, meaning a day without meat. The Irish favorite Colcannon made of potatoes, onions, and chopped Kale or Cabbage is a Halloween recipe from this era.
- 1 pound cabbage
- 1 pound potatoes
- 2 leeks
- 1 cup milk
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 pinch ground mace
- 1/2 cup butter
- In a large saucepan, boil cabbage until tender; remove and chop or blend well. Set aside and keep warm. Boil potatoes until tender. Remove from heat and drain.
- Chop leeks, green parts as well as white, and simmer them in just enough milk to cover, until they are soft.
- Season and mash potatoes well. Stir in cooked leeks and milk. Blend in the kale or cabbage and heat until the whole is a pale green fluff. Make a well in the center and pour in the melted butter. Mix well.
No other fruit or vegetable congers up Halloween like Pumpkins. But it wasn’t always that way. During the centuries before Christianity when the Celtic tribes celebrated the festival of Samhain, they placed glowing embers inside carved, hollowed out turnips. These were carried by villagers hoping to lead evil spirits away from their homes. When turnips were scares, the Celts used rutabagas or large beets instead. When the British and Irish immigrants came to America, they found an abundance of pumpkins. They used these larger fruits in place of turnips, starting the Halloween tradition so familiar today.
The Apple is another Halloween favorite with ancient roots in Samhain. Apples were among the few fruits that ripen during Samhain, and they came to symbolize the abundance of harvest time. But the importance of apples may be an inside story. An apple sliced across the core reveals a Pentagram which in Celtic times was linked to goddesses who controlled love and romance. Even in Christian times, apples were the focus of Halloween games that predicted the future in matters of the heart. The Halloween sport of bobbing for apples for example began as a way of ensuring success in courtship. If you snagged an apple you were deemed likely to snag a mate as well.