Nfld. & Labrador

When jack-o'-lanterns were turnips, not pumpkins, and other Halloween origins

Across Canada, kids and adults alike are celebrating Halloween, dressing up as ghouls, witches, mythical creatures, and other beasts and characters.

A tale of the Goudie Witch of Burlington, as told by Shaun Majumder

Before there were pumpkins, turnips used to be carved into jack-o'-lanterns for Halloween. (Sharon Tulk)

Across Canada, kids and adults alike are celebrating Halloween, dressing up as ghouls, witches, mythical creatures, and other beasts and characters.

A dentist in Paradise, N.L., even launched a Friday the 13th-inspired Facebook video to mark the Halloween spirit.

Kelly Hynes Dentistry posted the video, made with the Grind Mind filmmakers, last week on their Facebook page. It's been viewed tens of thousands of times since.

When even horror movie villains need a dental cleaning

3 years ago
Kelly Hynes Dentistry in Paradise, N.L., teamed up with Grind Mind to make a parody of the horrors of visiting the dentist 3:37

The video is a parody take on the idea that some people are terrified of a dentist visit — even a notorious horror movie villain.

"This was all about doing something fun for our patients," said Scott Fitzgerald, Kelly Hynes' husband, who got in touch with the Grind Mind folks to make the video.

"We wanted to foolishly poke fun at a classical fictional Halloween character by grossly exaggerating what it would be like if they visited our clinic for a check-up."



But the modern Halloween celebration isn't much like its origins in Celtic Ireland, says Rebecca Hayes, the visiting Irish scholar at Memorial University in St. John's.

Rebecca Hayes is the visiting Irish scholar at Memorial University in St. John's. (Submitted)

Originally a celebration called Samhain centuries ago, Halloween is quite different, but some things are similar.

"Back in ancient Celtic Irish what it would have meant was, summer's end. So I suppose the Celts had kind of a different calendar than we do today and the 31st of October would have been kind of like their New Year's Eve," Hayes said.

"They believed in the passage … from darkness into light. So the dark winter months, November, December, would have been the beginning of the year, and then it would have progressed into the lighter months of spring."

The origins of trick-or-treating are also a thousand years old, she said, but back then it wasn't so much about candy.

"They were entering into a new year, so they would collect offerings like nuts or apples, eggs and things like that from houses within the community and they were basically offerings to appease the gods so that for the upcoming year they would hopefully have a good harvest."

Warding off malevolent spirits

Samhain was a festival of fire, Hayes said, so the Celts would have rituals with massive bonfires, as well as other ceremonial rituals, as an offering to the gods.

"People would dance around them, they'd be making lots of noise, lots of dancing, lots of music, because noise was thought to have been a way to ward off evil spirits," she told CBC's St. John's Morning Show.

"People also would have been wearing ugly masks, so the whole idea of wearing scary masks and costumes also sort of originated in Celtic Ireland because it was thought to have been a way to scare off malevolent spirits."

Pumpkins are not native to Ireland, so the ancient Celts carved scary faces into hollowed-out turnips and placed them outside their doors at night for Samhain to ward off malevolent spirits. (Archival Moments)

Even the jack-o'-lantern began with Celtic Ireland, but it wasn't pumpkins they used to carve.

"Jack-o'-lanterns nowadays are grinning, carved-out pumpkins, but they were originally turnips, because pumpkins aren't native to Ireland," Hayes said.

"They would gouge out the centres of turnips and carve these really scary faces into them, leave them outside their homes and try to ward off the evil spirits."

In modern-day Ireland, Halloween isn't as big a deal as in Canada, but there are still kids in costumes, some trick-or-treating, and Irish-speaking festivals that last several days.

A haunting witch story from Shaun Majumder

In the community of Burlington, in Newfoundland's Green Bay, there's a legend of the Goudie Witch whose spirit is rumoured to still haunt the grounds where she's buried.

It's a story, whether fact or fiction, that Shaun Majumder knows all too well.

"The Goudie Witch is a famous story in Burlington and legend has it this woman was feared by all people in the region and when she passed away, I think at the age of 172 … she wasn't buried with all the other people," Majumder said.

Shaun Majumder says the Goudie Witch tale is one he warns visitors about at his annual The Gathering festival in his hometown of Burlington, N.L. (CBC)

"Because they were so afraid of this woman — the Goudie Witch — they built this white picket fence to keep her spirit contained in this area after she was buried."

Majumder said that a great fire all but burned the town or Burlington down years ago.

Everywhere, that is, except within the burial grounds of the Goudie Witch.

But after the fire, blueberries grew bigger than ever before in that spot, but the first man to eat those berries, Majumder said, woke up to a nasty surprise that's blamed on a curse from the Goudie Witch.

"He woke up the next day and he had these boils all over his body that, as it turned out, tasted just like blueberries," Majumder said.

"Now it was hideous looking, but poor Alouicious could not walk down the road without the crows picking at his boils because they still tasted like blueberries."

Look at what Rex did when he was on Canadian Idol. He cast a spell over the nation — you tell me there's no connection there?- Shaun Majumder

Majumder believes the Goudie Witch tales, and warns anyone who comes to his annual festival The Gathering that their campgrounds are that same burial site, and they should definitely not eat the wild blueberries.

"And I'm in L.A. That's how scared I am — I went all the way across the continent to get away from her scariness."

Majumder said he's discussed the Goudie Witch story with the Goudie family — including Rex Goudie.

"Now when I talked to young Rex Goudie about it the first time he was in denial. He didn't believe that the Goudie family could have this much evil in its past," Majumder said.

"The Goudie family are truly one of the nicest families you'll ever meet in your life but I still think it's a front. I think it's a ruse to lure you in and make you believe that they're nice … You just, you can't trust 'em with the Goudie Witch in their family.

"Look at what Rex did when he was on Canadian Idol. He cast a spell over the nation — you tell me there's no connection there?"

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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