Halloween may conjure images of overindulging with cheap candy, trying to scare oneself, and seeing women dressed in very little clothing, but with some slight changes, a historically accurate Halloween party is possible for anyone.
Step One: Bring on the Food
Many historians believe that Halloween’s roots go all the way back to the ancient Celtic tradition of Samhain and similar harvest festivals. Samhain marked the end of harvest time and the beginning of winter, a transitional period that was thought to encourage more spirits or faeries, known as the Aos Sí, among ghosts of the dead.
Similar to other mythical figures, they were feared and admired. People brought them gifts, leaving food and drinks outside as offerings for the Aos Sí, and setting places at the dinner table for deceased loved ones.
Step Two: Fortune Telling Opportunities
Throughout Ireland, families and friends participated in rituals and games to determine when the players would get married or die. They had their priorities.
Apples, a common harvest food, were used for apple bobbing. At special celebrations, single people bobbed for apples to see who would get married next. Folklore also suggests that girls would put the apple under their pillow to dream of their future lover.
For more information about the future, Celts would use divination practices like mirror-gazing, oomancy – prophecy through the use of eggs – and dream interpretation. To play along, have guests stare in a mirror all night, drop egg whites into hot water and read the omens they give, or drag out that psychology book for help interpreting each other’s dreams. Freud provides an interesting analysis every time. Remember to look for signs that the time for death or marriage is near. Ouija boards are a decent substitute.
Step Three: Give Partygoers Protection in the Form of a Bonfire
Because spirits run rampant during Halloween’s transitional period, make sure to protect guests with a bonfire. Celts saw fire as related to the sun and growth, the opposite of the darkness of coming winter. When they lit bonfires, the smoke and ashes were understood to have cleansing and protective powers. Some people took torches from the bonfire for walking home to protect them. Later, bonfires were thought to keep the devil away.
Step Four: Let There Be Costumes
Walking house to house in costume started by the 16th century. Mumming or guising involved people going to houses in disguise, sometimes wearing the ashes from a bonfire, trading recitations or songs for food. Some believe this came about as an attempt to mimic the Aos Sí. If the mummers were not given hospitality in the form of food, they brought bad fortune and mischief on the house. This could look like egging a house, but for legal reasons, it’s not recommended.
Step Five: Keep the Spirits Away with Historically Accurate Jack-O’-Lanterns
By the 19th century, people would carve hideous faces into turnips or other root vegetables to ward off the bad spirits. Let everyone else waste delicious pumpkins, and instead, carve a basketful of creepy turnips and beets.
By Kristen Edge