And thus the story behind the term itself, which is short for "the eve before All Hallows' Day," the latter referring to the fact that saints of Christianity were "hallowed" individuals. It is thought that the Church decided All Saints' Day should fall on November 1 to make it coincide with its precursor, a Celtic festival of the harvest. By "overwriting" the pagan origins of Halloween, perhaps the new religion could steal some thunder from the lingering Celtic influence in Europe.
Pagan Origins of Halloween Not So Easily Silenced
But if this was the Church's intention, the strategy backfired to some degree. Drawing on Celtic traditions, people evinced much more interest in honoring dead ancestors than in honoring dead Christian saints. To curb this un-Christian tendency, the Church instituted another holiday to promote Christianity -- All Souls' Day, November 2. On All Souls' Day the people were encouraged to pray for the souls in purgatory.
All Saints' Day was instituted as a holiday in the year A.D. 609 (initially celebrated in May, it was moved to the November 1 date in A.D. 834). Prior to that, a study of the pagan origins of Halloween reveals that the Celts had celebrated "Samhain" at this time of year. The Celts inhabited large portions of Western Europe throughout ancient times. They are perhaps most widely recognized for having been the people Julius Caesar fought in what is now France in his famous Gallic Wars (58-50 B.C.).
Despite this ancient French connection, it is only very recently that France has begun to write any pages for itself in Halloween history. But now the French do celebrate the spooky holiday, replete with the delights derived from dressing up in scary or bizarre costumes. About's French Language Guide, Laura K. Lawless, informs us about the Halloween history in France.
In the modern celebration of Halloween in the U.S., most people essentially enjoy the aspects of the holiday that derive from pagan origins of Halloween, albeit with a secular mindset. Some die-hards of Christianity, however, still vehemently oppose the holiday, harking back to the controversies of medieval times. Nonetheless, the holiday celebrated by the great majority of people today is one of our most fun holidays. It has nothing to do with nationhood and has lost its religious signifance for most people. We celebrate it simply because it is enjoyable to do so. Modern Halloween history has become remarkably tame, belying its controversial history.
For lovers of fall foliage and the bounty of the garden harvest, decorating the yard during this season holds an earthy pleasure that no other holiday can match. And in northern climes it is the last holiday of the year graced by live plants in the garden.
Among the various objets d'art that grace people's yards, patios and porches, are outdoor Halloween decorations your favorite? They are mine, and I suspect many gardeners feel the same way. Simply put, outdoor Halloween decorations are less a celebration of the holiday, per se, than of the harvest. Of course, the fact that this holiday is approached with such a fun-loving spirit, as discussed earlier, also plays a role in the quality of outdoor Halloween decorations. People let their hair down in decorating for All Hallows' Eve, which seems to stimulate impulses to creative landscaping.
For those who live in northern climes, displays of outdoor Halloween decorations celebrate both the culmination of the garden's spring-through-summer strivings and its last hurrah. It is a bittersweet time, but also the only time in which we may enjoy the best of both worlds outdoors: namely, the products of the harvest, as well as gardens that are still thriving. Not to mention the fall foliage, which is Mother Nature's contribution to outdoor Halloween decorations.
Flowers for Outdoor Halloween Decorations: A Last Hurrah
Pumpkins are harvested from the garden to stand side by side with chrysanthemum flowers as living outdoor Halloween decorations. Yes, we revel in sprinkling the October yard with images of witches, ghosts and other macabre elements. Butfall flowers in our gardens, especially those orange or yellow in color, should also assume the role of outdoor Halloween decorations. It is the last chance for many of us to enjoy the outdoors until the holiday of 4-leaf clovers, Saint Patrick's Day.
Outdoor Halloween decorations of all types (natural as well as store-bought) should be thought of in terms of creative landscaping. Remember, this is a wild, fun holiday: ghosts and ghouls know no rules! So do some experimenting with your plantings! Seek new ideas for creative landscaping! Don't stick to using the traditional aster and chrysanthemum flowers every year as outdoor Halloween decorations. For instance, in the photo at the top of the page, you see a fall scene just outside a back door, dominated by an angel's trumpet plant (Brugmansia Datura) whose blooming had been retarded during the summer by transplanting. It would be difficult for chrysanthemums to rival this display. Angel's trumpets do not supply fall foliage, but these poisonous plants more than makes up for it with aromatic, pendulous blossoms.
Nor should you overlook the creative landscaping potential of native plants for outdoor Halloween decorations. Goldenrod can be a fine addition to a patch of landscape that would otherwise be neglected. The fall foliage of sumac shrubs is brilliant and, as fast-growing shrubs, you don't have to wait long after planting them before you can enjoy the results in your landscape. Many people adore bittersweet vine, although the Oriental variety is terribly invasive and wreaks havoc with trees. Less destructive (but still aggressive) is Virginia creeper, which also offers rich fall foliage.
Outdoor Halloween Decorations That You Buy, Make
Among store-bought items, increasingly popular for outdoor Halloween decorations are the giant nylon inflatables (as in the picture on top of this page). These outdoor Halloween decorations light up at night, and all sorts of figures are available, including spiders, ghosts and witches, as well as jack-o-lanterns. Just plug in these colorful outdoor Halloween decorations, and they inflate in about 3 minutes!
Drawing on your arts and crafts talents to make your own outdoor Halloween decorations is also part of what makes this a fun holiday, packed with potential for creative displays outdoors. A friend once told me, "If you haven't tried at least five different styles of garden scarecrows by the time you're forty, then you need to get in touch with your artistic side!" A splendid idea for novel jack-o-lanterns involves using a hardshell gourd instead of a pumpkin. These gourds dry to a woody consistency, and can be re-used as outdoor Halloween decorations year in and year out.
From carving pumpkins to creating graveyard scenes, Halloween offers something to suit just about every taste. So "let your hair down" and have as much fun with your outdoor Halloween decorations as trick or treaters have with their candy! Considering the convoluted history behind this controversial holiday, it is unlikely anyone will take you to task for flaunting traditions in your yard's decor. If you can't flaunt them for All Hallows' Eve, when can you?