The sights and sounds and smells of October bring about in all of us subtle changes, and as our bodies begin to change metabolism, preparing us for shorter Winter days, our consciousness begins to shift from the more actively mental to the more physically receptive state appropriate to the dark half of the year. As all of these changes are taking place we are busy preparing for the most magical night of the year, Halloween.
The outward manifestations of these internal changes begin to appear around the house. On the back porch a pumpkin and gourds are the centrepiece of the picnic table, while the grapevine wreath on the door is adorned with a huge black (and orange) bow…. On the front porch pumpkins and colourful squash nestle against the old red butter churn, and sprays of bittersweet are added to the bunch of Indian corn that hangs by the front door. Bundles of dried cornstalks flank the front steps, and as the month progresses grinning jack-o’-lanterns stare from the windows. We carefully cut the eyeholes of each jack-o’-lantern so that they appear to be watching anyone that approaches the front porch. As night falls their flaming grins and fiery eyes stare from every window.
The origin of the jack-o’-lantern is obscure, but no doubt started in the New World. The name used to apply to a natural phenomenon, a luminous glow in the eastern sky after sunset. It may be that since the sunset in the west symbolized death, this glow in the east symbolized the spiritual survival of death.
Today in Ireland, candles are lit in cottage windows on Samhain night to welcome the spirits of the deceased. In faraway Japan, on a night equivalent to Halloween, the spirits of the deceased are welcomed home by glowing paper lanterns hung by garden gates. How the candle got inside the pumpkin may remain forever a mystery, but there can be little doubt that the jack-o’-lantern originated as a beacon light to welcome the spirits who roam freely among us on this night of Halloween.
I found the following in the World Book Encyclopedia:
… Many superstitions and symbols are connected with Halloween. The Irish have a tale about the origin of jack-o’-lanterns. They say that a man named Jack was unable to enter heaven because of his miserliness. he could not enter hell because he had played practical jokes on the devil. So he had to walk the earth with his lantern until Judgment Day.
The Druids, an order of priests in ancient Gaul and Britain, believed that on Halloween, ghosts, spirits, fairies, witches, and elves came out to harm people. They thought the cat was sacred and believed that cats had once been human beings but were changed as a punishment for evil deeds. From these Druidic beliefs comes the present-day use of witches, ghosts, and cats in Halloween festivities.
The Druids had an autumn festival called *Samhain*, or *summer’s end*. It was an occasion for feasting on all kinds of food which had been grown during the summer. The early peoples of Europe also had a festival similar to the Druid holiday.
In the 700’s, the Roman Catholic Church named November 1 as All Saints’ Day. The old pagan customs and the Christian feast day were combined into the Halloween festival….
from: World Book Encyclopedia