Long before Halloween became this big, modern (and expensive) celebration involving the handing out of overpriced candy to kids dressed up in overpriced costumes and the decorating of your home with dollar-store skulls, plastic tombstones and gigantic inflatable characters, the holiday had a far different meaning.
Originally, as most people probably know, Halloween started out as a Celtic festival called Samhain, a time when folks would celebrate the end of harvest and prepare for the godawful winter just around the corner.
It was also the time of year when Celts believed the souls of their dead relatives would return home for a bite to eat. So candles would be lit in the windows, places for the deceased would be set at the dinner table, and prayers would be offered to the undead guests before everyone broke out the mead and partied like it was 99 A.D.
Local druids would gather together in the town centre and build these massive bonfires, where folks would sacrifice animals and crops as an appeasement to the gods. The druids would sport animal heads and skins to make the ceremony even more creepy. And while the fire was still blazing they’d go around and attempt to tell everyone’s fortunes.
Animal sacrifices, mead drinking and fortune telling: if nothing else, the Celts knew how to throw a party. Sounds a bit like my brother’s bachelor party, to be honest.
Anyway, like everything else in life, Samhain morphed and evolved into other things over the following years, decades and centuries. Christianity came to Celtic lands and the church holidays of All Souls Day (Nov. 2) and All Hallows’ Day (Nov. 1) – yet more holidays honouring saints and martyrs and deceased souls – were somehow combined with Samhain (All Hallows’ Eve on Oct. 31 later became known as Halloween). And people still found excuses to dress up as angels, saints and devils, make huge bonfires and scare the living daylights out of friends, family members and complete strangers.
What is not so well known today is that by the Middle Ages, Halloween was the prime time of the year to find your significant other. It was a time of – in the immortal words of the great country music singer Johnny Lee – for looking for love in all the wrong places.
Though today you probably wouldn’t necessarily associate finding your spouse with animal sacrifices, big bonfires and dressing up like the devil, apparently people across Europe at the time felt a twinge of romance while listening to the blood-curdling cries of burning goats or whatever. Let’s not judge our ancestors too harshly – disco music hadn’t yet been invented.
According to legend, all sorts of romantic games, competitions and activities were created to help Halloween matchmaking.
Women in medieval Scotland were apparently encouraged to binge on sugar, hazelnuts and nutmeg (honestly, who needs encouragement to eat sweets?) during Halloween celebrations in order to have vivid dreams of who their future husband would be. Seems like a foolproof way of finding a reliable life partner.
In 18 th -century Ireland, according to an article in the publication Woman’s Day, cooks would hide jewelry inside potatoes and whoever found it would (eventually) find true love. Obviously this wouldn’t happen immediately, as the person who bit into jewelry while eating their potato would presumably have to go to the dentist before finding said love.
The Irish also invented another Halloween game called puicini: a person would be blindfolded and forced to choose from among a bunch of saucers with hidden gifts in them. If someone selected a saucer with a ring, it meant they would be getting hitched with the love of their life in the near future. The alternatives were pretty bad: if someone picked a saucer with clay, they’d die within a year (seems a tad harsh). If they picked a saucer with water they’d emigrate somewhere. If they got rosary beads in their saucer they’d have to become a monk or nun (also harsh). If a coin was found they’d become rich, and if it was a bean they’d become dirt poor.
Bobbing for apples was also a game originally designed to match partners together during Halloween times (apples were a symbol of fertility), and there were also strange Halloween romance-based games involving syrupy scones hanging on strings. Those were different times, as Lou Reed once said.
Anyway, while it may seem completely outlandish today that Halloween was once a holiday known for romance and finding life partners, it isn’t the most ludicrous idea.
My parents told me they first met at a university Halloween dance many moons ago (my dad was dressed as a caveman, my mother was a cavewoman, the story goes, and they ended up getting married and having Neanderthal children), proving that Halloween romance is alive and kicking in our modern times.
So if you’re single and looking for love on Halloween, there are plenty of options for you this Oct. 31. If you want to eat Nutella straight out of the jar before passing out and dreaming of your future spouse, that’s A-OK.
Alternately, if you want to put some jewelry in your potatoes, there is no judgment here.
You are merely partaking in the same romantic Halloween rituals that your ancestors did all those years ago.