Halloween: The patron saint of matrimony?

OKEECHOBEE — It’s almost Halloween again, and as we all know, Halloween is the season of love. Love, marriage, sweethearts, all those lovey dovey things. What? You didn’t know Halloween was the season of love? Well admittedly, it didn’t start out that way.

Most scholars believe that Halloween can trace its earliest roots all the way back to the Celtic festival of the dead. This festival was called Samhain (pronounced saa-ween), and was the celebration of their new year, which fell on Nov. 1. They believed that at this time of year the souls of the dead roamed the earth mingling with the living on their way to the otherworld.

People sacrificed fruits, vegetables, and animals on bonfires in order to help these souls find their way into the otherworld. They wore masks and costumes so the dead would not notice or recognize them.

Christian missionaries are credited with the gradual change of Samhain to Halloween. Pope Gregory the First issued an edict in 601 AD which is commonly thought to have been the cause of this change. His edict was that if a people group were worshiping something, he didn’t want his missionaries to destroy it, but rather, to consecrate it to Christ and allow them to continue to worship. According to common belief, that is why All Saints Day is on the same day as Samhain, and Christmas was set in the middle of winter, when people were already celebrating.

When the Catholic Church established All Saints Day, also known as All Hallows, their intention was to completely replace the festival of the dead, with its ghosts, faeries, and demons, but this did not go as planned. In the 9th century, the church established Nov. 2 as All Souls Day in another attempt to finally rid themselves of the remnants of Samhain. On this day, the living were to pray for the souls of the dead, but to their chagrin, this backfired, becoming a vehicle for the beliefs the people already held. They now had the church establishing a holiday backing up their belief that the dead were wandering around, needing their help to get into the next world. The night before All Hallows became known as All Hallows eve or Hallow evening, which later became Hallowe’en.

Most families celebrated Hallowe’en with parties involving lots of food, and games, but trick or treating did not get its start until sometime in the late 1920s or early 1930s. It has its roots in a tradition called going a-souling in which poor people would go from home to home begging for a soul-cake in exchange for a promise to pray for the souls of the people who live in the home. This is still practiced in some parts of Ireland.

On Oct. 31, 1862, the National Republican, a newspaper in Washington D.C., published an article explaining a custom they said was prohibited by Queen Elizabeth because it was designed to favor the souls of the deceased. The article states, “It was also a custom a few centuries ago to have a cake baked on this eve for every member of the family, as a soul mass cake or soul cake.” The article goes on to explain that the cakes were set up on boards and were there for friends, neighbors, or the poor. People went from house to house chanting, “a soul cake, a soul cake! Have mercy on all Christians for a soul cake!” By the time of the writing of this article though. They had progressed to a new way of celebrating All Hallow Eve, they would go from door to door and throw cabbages and turnips at any servant who was unlucky enough to open the door.

In the 1800s and early 1900s, newspapers record a different trend in Hallowe’en celebrations. Rather than focusing on death and demons, these focused more on the future, especially on love and marriage, with many Hallowe’en traditions centering on the future spouses of the girls. All of a sudden, Halloween was the season of love.

The Louisiana Democrat (Alexandria, La.) published a story on Nov. 11, 1868 describing something they described as legends of the past. According to one of these legends, young women would go to the grocery store and steal a herring. They were to cook it without cleaning it in any way. They were not even to wash off the brine. Then they had to eat it, and walking backwards, go immediately to bed without drinking any water. If she did this, she would have a dream of her sweetheart. Another legend describes girls washing their linen undergarments in the river and asking in the name of Satan the name of their future husband. A common practice among young women was to take several nuts and write the names of young men on them. They would then carefully place the nuts on the grate before the fire. If the nut cracked or jumped, the girl should avoid him because he would prove to be unfaithful. If a nut blazed, it meant he was interested. If a nut burned quietly, it meant he had sincere affection for the girl. If the girl put a nut with her own name in the fire too, and her nut burned simultaneously with one of the other nuts, it meant a wedding was imminent.

On Oct. 31, 1891, The Morning Call (San Francisco, Calif.) published an article explaining that many centuries earlier, the Roman Catholic Church had proclaimed Nov. 1 to be All Hallow Mas, which meant All Saints Day, because they had determined they had too many saints to set aside a day to honor each one individually. They also decreed that Oct.31 would be Hallow eve. The Morning Call mentions the many ways women sought to determine the name or face of her future husband and includes a new one. Take a small piece of wood and put it in a glass of water. Set it on your bedside table, and in the night, you will dream of falling off a bridge and into water. Your future husband will save you from drowning. The author of this story claims that this one works because it happened for his brother.

On Nov. 29, 1895, the Hawaiian Gazette published a story which used the name Halloween, although the author lovingly describes it as Cabbage Night and tells of “stealthily tying two cabbages to Deacon Ellis’ front door knob.” Apparently, there was some evolution of Cabbage Day over the years as they were no longer throwing them at unsuspecting people.

Parties were a popular way to celebrate Halloween according to this article. They bobbed for apples and threw apple peelings over their shoulders to see whose initials they formed. (Any guesses on what they were trying to find out?) They also poured lead into water for the same reason. The author of this article advised that superstitions of this sort be avoided at all times.
The Los Angeles Herald published an article on Nov. 3, 1907 describing Hallowe’en as a night of mirth and mystery. The author mentions other common names for it including All Hallow Even, Nut Crack Night, and Snapapple Night. This article states that Saint Matrimony is the patron saint of Hallowe’en, and although there doesn’t seem to have actually been such a saint, it certainly would explain all the legends related to determining one’s future spouse!

According to the author, the spirits who abound on Hallowe’en are infallible in their verdicts in this regard. This author also mentions cabbages. Apparently young women were to go hand in hand to the cabbage field and each girl would pull up a cabbage. The amount of dirt on the root of the cabbage would signify the amount of her dowry. The size and shape of the cabbage was directly related to the size and shape of her future husband, and the taste indicated his disposition. Perhaps this has something to do with young men throwing cabbages at people on Hallowe’en. Being compared to a cabbage seems like something that might arouse some anger.

According to an Ogden Standard- Examiner (Ogden, Utah) article printed on Oct. 29, 1922, witches, pumpkins, apples, and black cats have long been a part of Halloween lore.

This story mentions several Halloween traditions to try:
• Bake a Fortune cake containing a ring, a thimble, and a dime. Whoever gets the ring will get married soon. Whoever gets the thimble will never marry, and whoever gets the dime will marry a wealthy man.
• Back down the stairs while holding a mirror in one hand and a candle in the other, and you will see the face of your future spouse.
• Bobbing for apples in a bucket of water
• Thread a raisin on a long string and have two people begin chewing on the string, racing to get to the raisin in the center. The winner gets the raisin.
• Have your guests cut open an apple and count the seeds. Two means an early marriage, three means a legacy, four means great wealth, and five means a voyage.
• And of course, they must make sure to put the glass of water containing a sliver of wood beside their bed before they go to sleep after the party.

After many years of celebrating with parties, trick or treating as we know it appeared but was not popular. The Reno Evening Gazette, in its Nov. 1, 1938, story compares Nevada trick or treaters with Mafia racketeers. The article was titled, “Youngsters Shake Down Residents,” and began, “Trick or treat was the slogan employed by Halloween pranksters who successfully extracted candy fruit from Reno residents. In return the youngsters offered protection against window soaping and other forms of annoyance.”

Most people now think of Halloween as a holiday for the kids. They don’t usually mind putting a little extra candy on their grocery lists, and hardly anyone fears real ghosts or goblins are out and about. It is unlikely that complaints have ever come in about cabbage vandalism in Okeechobee, but if there are any single women out there looking for a husband, apparently this holiday is actually for you, so you might want to give one of these ceremonies a try.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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