In the ancient Celtic calendar, the old year came to a close at the end of what we call October and began anew on the first of November. Samhain - pronounced Sow-un or Sow-ween or other variations depending on the native origin of the speaker - means "end of harvest". In modern Irish, it's also the name for November.
But in the pagan days at the dawn of the world, Samhain began the new year. On Samhain Eve, all the fires were extinguished and then rekindled to symbolize the new year. On that night, because it was between one year and the next, the belief was that the dead could walk among the living. Bonfires were built to illuminate the night.
Prior to Samhain, preparations for winter had been underway. Grains, fruits and vegetables had to be harvested in advance and animals were slaughtered as food for the coming lean months. Samhain, the first day of the year, became All Saints and the following day, November 2, became All Souls. Since these days were considered holy or hallowed, Samhain became All Hallows Eve.
Over the centuries, the old stories were handed down and the notion that spooky things were on the prowl came to the New World with the early settlers. One of the tales involved a man named Jack who tried to trick the devil and failed. He was left to wander the world, carrying a hollowed out turnip with an ember inside for a light. In the way of legends, he became Jack O'Lantern.
Since pumpkins are native to North America and were much larger than the humble turnip, the switch from turnip to pumpkins were made so that our idea of a Jack O'Lantern is a big, bright orange pumpkin.
In late October, as the days became shorter and dusk arrives earlier, as the leaves fall and morning mists provide an aura of mystery, tales of spooky things often are told. Kids still go trick or treating but today, more and more groups are offering trunk or treat events to provide a safer, more controlled environment. The Halloween parties I recall as a child provided us with a chance to dress up and to enjoy a few treats but now, they are fall parties. This year, Neosho students are out of school for conferences on Halloween.
I've heard that long ago, the students from Central School would don their costumes and parade around the Square on Halloween. That custom ended but at the Neosho Daily News, we continue with the same spirit with our annual Trail of Treats.
Bring the kids by on Halloween from 3-5 p.m., have their picture taken for an upcoming edition of the paper and get a treat.
We'll be home before dark - will you?
-Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy is community editor of The Neosho Daily News and The Aurora Advertiser. She is also a freelance writer and published author. She writes a column. From A Writer' View, each week.