Demeter, Goddess of the Harvest, with pumpkin jack-o-lanterns
The display by the Bolingbrook Arts Council honors the origins and evolution of Halloween.
Many ancient cultures celebrated harvest festivals, and for a good reason! Food was scarce. They didn’t have grocery stores and refrigerators or GrubHub or DoorDash. They had to wait until their crops produced the food, and thus harvesting all that food was crucial for survival. The autumn harvest is the last harvest of the year before winter comes and all the crops die. Therefore, in many cultures, celebrating autumn harvests and death have become intertwined.
Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. The Celts who lived in the area now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. On the last night of the[ir] year, the Celts believed that the ghosts of the dead would cause trouble and damage crops.*
As time went on, the Roman Empire conquered that area, and Roman traditions merged with the Celtic celebration of Samhain. A few centuries later, Christianity spread to the Celtic region as well, and the honoring of All Souls/All Saints merged with the Roman/Samhain traditions of honoring the dead. In Middle English, All Saints was known as Al-Hallows, and thus the night before became known as All-Hallows Eve, or Halloween.
In America, harvesting food was just as important to the new European immigrants, who celebrated their harvest traditions with Native American harvest traditions. As more European immigrants came to America, more of their evolved harvest/death traditions came with them. Carving pumpkins was one such evolved tradition that came over with Irish immigrants. The Irish myth is that a man named Stingy Jack tricked the devil and, in death, was banished to roam the earth with a single light in a carved turnip. His ghost was known as Jack of the Lantern, or jack-o-lantern. The tradition of carving out turnips evolved to carve the more native, American pumpkin.
The Bolingbrook Arts Council display of jack-o-lanterns with Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, honors the influence harvest festivals and cultural traditions have had on Halloween. So enjoy your Halloween walk and follow the Bolingbrook Arts Council to learn more about art in our community.
*Includes excerpts from History.com