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Halloween and Gardening

by Stephanie Suesan Smith on October 31, 2010

At first glance, halloween and gardening have little in common.  Little children (or not so little) running around begging for candy while dressed as monsters do not seem to have anything to do with growing tomatoes and peas.  If, however, you know a bit more about the occasion, you see the connection.

Halloween stands for All Hallow’s Eve, the day before All Saint’s Day.  It was believed that on the night of All Hallow’s Eve, the veil between this world and the next thinned and the souls of the departed wondered the earth, doing mischief.  In order to keep them away, people wore masks and lit bonfires.

The connection with gardening is older still.  The Celts celebrate the New Year and the coming of winter on November 1, which is about right for the latitudes they inhabited — Europe, Great Britain, and Ireland.  This would mark the end of anything growing and the beginning of reliance on food put up from the harvest.  The feast of Samhain, Lord of the Dead, was celebrated on October 31, sort of a last feast before the winter conservation measures went into effect.  Many of the beliefs found about Halloween, such as ghosts rising, dressing in masks and lighting bonfires, and such, came from the Celts.

After the coming of the Church, Church holidays were super imposed on the prevailing holidays of the day.  The resulting stew of superstition and Church doctrine made for some interesting mixes.  For example, in Ireland, people carved turnips out and put coals in them to ward off evil spirits.  On man, Jack, was made to roam the world with only the light of a carved turnip because he had never done a single selfless act in his life.  After the Church came, the myth changed to be that Jack was too evil even for Hell so must roam the earth helping Satan all eternity.  When the Irish potato famine sent waves of Irish Catholic immigrants to America, they found pumpkins, which are much easier to carve than turnips.  And so we got the Jack o’lantern.

So we are back to North America.  Even here, Halloween marks the end of most garden production for the year.  We, too, will be living on things put aside during the summer.  Of course, we can go to the store and buy food if our larder runs short, while that was not an option for the Celts.  It isn’t an option for many families in the world today.  So remember the end of the growing season and the thinning of the veil between the worlds while celebrating this day and be grateful you have enough.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

nik from seed bank March 15, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Thanks for the great little history lesson on the Halloween holiday and providing its connection with gardening! I’m sure not a lot of people knew about its history and just found it all to be superstition. However, every story had to derive from something. It’s just that none of us really take the time to find out from where it came.

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