An old Scottish saying goes, ""From ghosties and ghoulies and long legged beasties and things that go 'bump' in the night, Good Lord deliver us." This Halloween custom we carry on today, as best I can discover, got started as a kind of combination celebration. Christians celebrated "All Saints Day" on the first of November.
That's a day when Saints who didn't have a special date named for them already were bunched together and recognized. At the same time the Gaelic people of Ireland celebrated "Samhain."
Samhain meant "the end of summer," something like that. Samhain was on Oct. 31. This was the time of year when the crops had been taken in and everyone was preparing for "the dark days" of winter. Samhain was on the evening preceding the holy day celebrating the saints - the holy evening - Halloween. The Irish believed at this time of year the separation of the living world from the world of the dead was very thin, that ghosts of ancestors and others, some not so nice, could re-visit the earth, their old "haunts," so to speak.
That was the reason folks built bonfires, to scare the bad ghosts away. And they wore masks and disguises so bad ghosts wouldn't recognize them. Enterprising kids got the idea of dressing up as ghosties and ghoulies and knocking on people's doors. They would ask for some treat as payment not to do some trick, the old "trick or treat" ploy.
Of course these stories come from the same place as the explanation I heard for why Scotsmen wear kilts. The Irish used to raid Scotland quite regularly but, since all Irishmen were gentlemen of course, they were most courteous to the ladies, even as they beat the be-jabbers out of their men folk. Those Scotsmen were no fools. Soon, whenever they heard "the Irish are coming," they would run home and pull on their wives skirts. That was the story I was told.
Then, too, there's the story of "Dirty Ol' Jack." Jack was so mean he would grease the tip of his grandmother's crutch just to watch her dance around trying not to fall. One evening the local church folk were chasing Jack for stealing something. The devil suddenly appeared to Jack and told him his time had come to die. Jack quickly involved the devil in his present predicament. Jack said he had an idea.
He suggested the devil change himself into a silver coin. Jack would give the coin to the town folk as penance for what he had done. After they had accepted the coin and left, the devil could change back and disappear. The town folk would each think one of the others had stolen it and begin to argue and fight among themselves. That sort of mean thinking appealed to the devil and he agreed. But when jack put the devil as a silver coin into his purse, the devil found that he was right next to a crucifix which Jack also had in his purse.
Now everyone knows a crucifix robs the devil of all his powers. He was unable to change back. Jack successfully eluded the town folk without having to give up the silver coin. It appeared Jack had won again.
Finally the devil promised Jack eternal life if he would remove the crucifix. The deal was done but then the devil, being a double dealing cheat himself, stole Jack's head as he went back to you-know-where. He left Jack with a carved turnip with two eye holes and an eternally burning coal inside.
The word is that Jack is still out there, wandering the land on Halloween with his carved-turnip head - his jack-o-lantern - searching for another head. Remember that because, if you see a lantern coming your way on Halloween, it may be a willow-the-wisp, or it could be swamp gas, but it may be old Dirty Ol' Jack still looking for a new head. You'd better run!
As for the rest of us out there driving to or from wherever, be extra careful, especially on Halloween. The streets and the byways will be filled with little ghosties and ghoulies excitedly running from house to house trick or treating for goodies - or maybe just getting' away from ol' Jack. They may not be paying attention to automobiles and all on the streets. So you and I had better pay extra attention for the sake of the kids- or ol' Jack might get you too.
Editors note: Ben Mukkala is a local author whose several books on life and living are available in bookstores and gift shops or through his website, www.benmukkala.com. You can contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.