Before cheesy decor, costumes, and children going door to door begging strangers for treats and threatening minor violence if said treats were not provided, there was a deeper and far more interesting festival that was celebrated every October.
More than 2,000 years ago the Celtic festival of Samhain (sah-wen) was celebrated to mark the end of the summer and harvest seasons and welcome the “time of death” (from a Michigan winter viewpoint, this name definitely tracks). It was believed that this last day of October was when the veil between the living and dead realms was the thinnest, meaning that ghoulies and ghosties could cross the barrier and torment the living. Well, that just won’t do.
The Celts would dress up in nightmare-inducing costumes, light a sacred bonfire, and dance around it in an attempt to scare away any spirits that might be looking to take advantage of the open gate to the land of the living. As night turned into morning, tapers from the bonfire were used to light the hearths of homes, believing the continuation of the sacred fire would continue to ward off nefarious spirits.
Now, let's fast forward a few centuries to Ireland, where folklore ruled the school. One of those tales was that of Stingy Jack, a bitter old alcoholic (feel that) who took delicious pleasure in tricking anyone and everyone he could... including the Devil himself.
One day in a pub, the Devil appeared to Jack and offered to buy him a drink in exchange for Jack’s soul (which doesn’t feel like a fair trade, but whatever). The Devil then transformed himself into a coin that could be used to buy a drink, but Jack had other plans, the sly minx. Instead, he pocketed the coin along with a crucifix, trapping the Devil in his penny-like state.
(aha! Not today, Satan!) After much begging and pleading, Jack agreed to release his captive if, and only if, the Devil would leave him be. Unwilling to be trapped in a lint-filled pocket forever, the underwordly deviant agreed.
Exactly ten years after his release, the Devil again came to Jack, intent on reaping his soul once and for all. Again, the old trickster had a plan up his sleeve, and asked if the Devil might be so kind as to climb a nearby apple tree and get him one final snack before they plunged into the depths of hell (snacks are the best, we get it). The Devil, who might be the master of the underworld but not all that bright, scurried up the tree to fetch a piece of fruit. Foiled again, sir! While he was up there, Jack carved a cross into the trunk of the tree, and now the Devil was stuck in its branches, unable to climb down. (Okay, now this is just embarrassing). In order to get down, the Devil swore he would never again come for Jack’s soul.
Well... things didn’t go quite according to plan for our boy, Jack. Once he died, no one would take him. Heaven wouldn’t let him in for being such a manipulative jerk, and Hell wouldn’t take him because the Devil pinky-promised not to. So... Now what? The Devil, in a moment of generosity, gave Jack one last gift before he was doomed to prowl the earth for all eternity— a hollow turnip glowing with hellfire to light his way. (Truly the gift that keeps on giving.)
As a result, around All Hallow’s Eve/Halloween, the Irish hollowed out turnips, gourds and potatoes to house a lit candle to ward off evil spirits and keep the ghost of old Stingy Jack at bay.
They fervently believed that the flame of the candle inside must stay lit all night and into the morning for protection from the roaming ghost. When the 1800s rolled around, and many Irish sailed to the United States, they found that not only were pumpkins in abundance here, but they were also larger and much easier to hollow out— thus, the modern version of the jack o'lantern was born and became a staple American Halloween tradition.
Now, wasn’t that a fun little hike through history? Looking back at the two stories, did you find a common theme? Ding ding ding! That’s right— fire. Keeping a fire burning throughout the night of Halloween is a huge part of the lore, from the Celtic bonfires to the Irish jack o’lanterns.
Who would have thought that your favorite Kalamazoo Candle might be acting as a bouncer between you and wily spirits? See? Not only do they smell amazing, but our candles are also like tiny, unassuming bodyguards! And you were thinking they were just for home decor... so silly
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Candles haven’t always been a charming home decor must-have. In fact, candles are at the center of a slew of different superstitions, ranging from the superficial and funny to the dark and sinister. Candles can be traced back in history for centuries, but many people don’t realize that many cultures used candles for much more ominous purposes than just to cast a bit of reading light. Intrigued? You will be soon!