By Ray Knapp
What is Halloween? Well, it’s an event that occurs the 31st of October. It’s not a religious holiday, even though it is sometimes called All Hallow’s Eve as it falls the day before All Saints’ Day on the Catholic Liturgical Calendar. Its origins date back to the ancient Celts some 2000 or more years ago who celebrated the end of summer around this time of year which marked the beginning of the cold dark winter, which in some way they associated with the boundary when the worlds between the living and the dead became blurred and they believed the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.
By 43 A.D. the Roman Empire had conquered the majority of Celtic lands and in 609 A.D. Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon in Rome in honor of Christian martyrs and the feast of Martyrs Day was established. By the 9th century the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands, where it gradually blended with and supplanted their older ties. In 1000 A.D. the church would make Nov. 2 All Soul’s Day, a day to honor the dead. It was celebrated with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels and devils. This kind of blurred the lines between the old Celtic rites and a Christian holiday which leaves some confused about it to this day.
Just why Halloween has persisted all this time is a mystery to me, of course in recent years; merchants certainly keep it in the spotlight to boost their sales as one quarter of the candy sold annually in the United States is purchased for Halloween. In addition to that, Halloween costumes and masks add a substantial sum to merchants’ sales for the year. About 56 billion is spent annually for Halloween.
Some of the traditions going along with Halloween are pretty ancient and you might say absurd. Take jack-o-lanterns. The original ones were carved with scary faces placed in windows to scare away wandering evil spirits. They, according to an Irish legend got their name from a man nicknamed “Stingy Jack.”
One night the Devil was out looking for a soul to steal and ran onto Stingy Jack bumming drinks at a local pub. Jack slapped the Devil on the back and befriended him by offering to buy him a drink, but being true to his name, stated he was financially embarrassed at the moment and convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin so he could purchase them a drink. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the coin and placed it in his pocket next to a silver cross which prevented him from returning to his original form. Jack eventually let him out on the condition that he wouldn’t take his soul if he should die. Jack eventually died, but St. Peter wouldn’t let a scoundrel like him into heaven, so he went searching for the Devil. The Devil being true to his word, wouldn’t take his soul, but sent him on his way with a burning coal to light his way. Jack made a lantern with the burning coal. The Irish began to call this ghostly figure Jack O’ Lantern.
Around here, Flag Pond, at one time had quite a reputation for enjoying Halloween more than anyplace in the county. According to Sid Silvers, in the 1990s some boys or maybe evil spirits, took a chainsaw and fell a tree across Devil’s Fork Road. On getting this news, the Highway Patrol sent a trooper up there to check it out. Sure enough the road was blocked. He turned around to get help from the highway department only to find these evil spirits had fell a tree behind him. He was blocked in, and from the woods rocks began pelting his patrol car.
“It was quite a night around here,” Sid stated. “Police came from Erwin and all over the place and finally got the trees off the road. I don’t know who it was did that. I know everybody around here and they’re nice folks. Must have been some of them young’uns from North Carolina, I hear they have a few rogues over there.”