From pumpkins and fall-time fruits, to flying animals, Halloween is more than just kids dressing up in costumes; it has natural roots!
First off – the Jack-O-Lantern. Carving fruits and small vegetables with ghostly faces started in Ireland where a legend of a man, named Jack, who tricked the devil. Once Jack died, he was denied entry into both heaven and hell and was left to wander the land with a piece of lit coal stuffed in a turnip to guide his way. For years, the Irish and Scottish created their own “Jack of Lanterns” by sticking candles in beets and turnips to keep the spirit of Jack away. When they migrated to America and discovered the native fruit, Pumpkin, they started using them to create their lanterns!
Pumpkins aren’t the only plant that’s common around Halloween; apples are too! Samhain, pronounced Sow-In, (or Gaelic Irish) druids had festivals to mark the end of the harvest season and the start of the “darker” season. They peeled apples to help them read the future. This continued and became a popular Halloween game for children. Now, bobbing-for-apples has taken its place at many Halloween festivals. Did you know that if you were the first to catch the apple in your mouth, you’re supposedly blessed with good luck until the next harvest festival?
It’s not just plants, that have an association with Halloween! Many flying animals like birds and bats are common figures this time of year!
Of course, we automatically think of Vampire Bats going with Halloween. What’s spookier than an animal that comes out at night and drinks blood of unsuspecting animals? Unfortunately, there are thousands more species of bat that are pollinators – an important part of our ecosystem’s health, that get lumped into the “bad animal” category due to their relative’s gruesome diet. Before the Dracula movies came out, bats were associated with dark and demonic activities. Early witches worshiped winged, horned figures that many believed to be bats.
While there may be a natural connection with Vampire Bats and all things dark and spooky, did you know that some birds are feared around Halloween time as well? Of course, they’re not the pretty Goldfinches or Robins, but Crows and Owls. Crows are carrion birds, eating the meat off dead animals, including humans. A fear of Crows happened long before our modern Halloween celebrations. In Greek mythology, crows brought the goddess of war, Athena, bad news so she cursed them. Some Native American tribes viewed crows as a trickster and trouble makers.
Yes, crows eat dead things, making them a little unnerving, but owls, efficient predators are also birds linked with the dark! They are soundless in their flight and many are ambush hunters. Some of their hoots sound like screaming, which can definitely be eerie in a dark forest. The ancient Aztecs thought that an owl was their God of Death and the ancient Japanese thought that Horned Owls were demons. Middle Easterners and Romans thought that seeing an owl was a bad omen and a prediction of death.
Halloween is a great time to celebrate “spooky” things, but we know now that these animals and plants don’t have to be feared and that they’re all very beneficial to the environment!