The holiday of Halloween has always been a spooky delight! Celebrated annually on October 31, the origins of this popular festival date back almost 2,000 years ago. Halloween originated during the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. The Celts, who mostly lived around the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, celebrated Samhain to ward off ghosts a day before they celebrated the New Year on 1st November. They would light bonfires and wear Halloween costumes to keep spirits at bay. Read on to know what Halloween means and what the popular Halloween traditions are.
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How Did Samhain Morph Into Halloween As We Know It?
In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated 1st November as a time to honor all saints. During this time, All Saints Day incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before All Saints Day came to be known as All Hallows Eve, and later Halloween. Over time, Halloween acquired an identity of its own. It is now popularly associated with trick-or-treating, carving jack-o-lanterns, festive gatherings, donning costumes and eating sweet treats. Americans spend around $6 billion annually on Halloween, making it the country’s 2nd largest commercial holiday after Christmas. Here are some of the most interesting Halloween traditions from different parts of the world!
Carving Halloween Jack-O’-Lanterns
Originated In – Ireland
Carving pumpkins into Jack-O’-Lanterns is one of the most popular Halloween traditions. The carved pumpkins are used as decorations both within and outside houses. The creepy carvings are supposedly based on a legend about a man named Stingy Jack who repeatedly trapped the Devil and only let him go on the condition that Jack would never go to Hell. When he died, Jack learned that his soul wasn’t allowed to enter heaven either and he was condemned to wander the Earth as a ghost for eternity. The Devil then gave Jack a lump of burning coal in a carved-out turnip to light his way. Over time, locals began to carve pumpkins into frightening faces to ward off spirits.
Wearing Scary Costumes
Originated In – Scotland
Halloween is synonymous with crazy costume parties. People go out of their way to dress up in the most terrifying outfits! How did this tradition come to be? Apparently, during Samhain, the Celts got creative to avoid evil spirits. To confuse ghosts, they began dressing up as spirits themselves, so they would be left alone. Masks and weird costumes were used to disguise themselves to refrain from spirits terrorizing or harming them. Over a period of time dressing up in scary costumes became the theme of Halloween parties. Today, people dress up in weird costumes and go knocking door to door asking for food or money.
Originated In – Scotland and Ireland
There is significant speculation over the origins of trick-or-treating. One major theory proposes that during the festival of Samhain, Celtic people would keep food out to please the wandering souls and ghosts. Soon, people began dressing as these supernatural beings to get similar offerings of food and drink. Trick-or-treating generally happens on Halloween evening. Children and poor adults dress up as their favorite characters and go knocking from one house to another to collect food and money from the local community. There are three theories to it: 1 – leaving favorite food for the ghosts and spirits traveling to earth, 2 – Collecting money or food in return for prayers to the dead, 3 – Children disguise themselves and ask adults to guess their identities. Whatever it may be, this is one fun way to enjoy a Halloween party.
Bobbing For Apples
Originated In – Britain
Bobbing for apples is a fun game played at most Halloween parties for many years now. While multiple versions existed, its origins are more rooted in love and romance. The origin of the game can be traced to a courting ritual that was part of a Roman festival honoring Pomona, the goddess of agriculture and abundance. When the Romans conquered the British Isles in 43 AD, the Pomona festival was blended with Samhain, a precursor to Halloween. A large tub of water is filled with apples that bob at the surface. Players have to try picking up an apple with their teeth. The essential gist of the tradition is that young men and women would be able to foretell their future relationships based on the game.
Soul Cakes For Prayer
Originated In – England
This Halloween tradition originated in England during the Middle Ages. People were mostly overworked and did not have the time to offer prayers for dead relatives to allow them to cross over into the afterlife. They eventually got impoverished people to offer prayers on behalf of them on All Saints Day. The underprivileged were offered ‘soul cakes’ in return for the prayers they offered. This then became a tradition that involved soul cakes being used as offerings for the dead on the eve of All Saints Day.
Lighting A Bonfire
Originated In – Ireland and Scotland
Lighting a bonfire while exchanging spooky stories is a beloved Halloween tradition. The idea of lighting a bonfire is to frighten away ghosts and spirits. In ancient English culture, the bonfire was used to determine who was going to die soon. If a stone thrown into the ash was not visible the next day, the person who threw it was going to die within a year. In modern times, it’s just a fun way for friends and family to get together on the night of Halloween and spend some quality time together! These days, candles have replaced the towering traditional bonfires. But as per the early history of Halloween, open towering flames were integral in lighting the way for souls seeking the afterlife.
Originated In – Ireland
Medieval folklore linked the bats with a number of superstitions. They believed that bats were the harbingers of death, hence spotting bats became connected to the Halloween festival. Presence of the bats were not just symbolically but literally. The large bonfires attracted many insects and that in turn attracted bats. Spotting a bat on Halloween was considered to be quite an ominous sign. One myth was that if a bat was spotted flying around one’s house three times, it meant that someone in that house is about to die soon and if a bat flew into your house on Halloween, it was a sign that your house was haunted. Creepy, right!
Eating Candy Apples
Originated In – Newark
For centuries, fruits have been coated in sugar syrup as a means of preservation. These fruits always found a place in harvest celebrations. Candy apples were believed to be invented accidentally in 1908 by William W. Kolb, a candy maker in Newark, New Jersey. As the story goes, William Kolb was experimenting with red cinnamon candy to sell for Christmastime parties. He dipped apples on sticks into the red glaze (that looked like lollipops) and put them in his shop window to showcase his new candy. But instead of selling the candies, he ended up selling the apples to customers as it looked quite different from the other treats. These fashionable treats started being used as Halloween treats in the early 1900s and they remained popular ever since.
Orange And Black Colors
Originated In – Northern France, Ireland
Have you ever wondered why Halloween parties have so much orange and black color? From costumes to decorations everything is based around these colors. The classic Halloween colors can trace their origins back to the Celtic festival Samhain. These traditional colors actually stem from the pagan celebration of autumn and the harvest. Orange symbolizes the colors of the crops, while black marks the death of the summer season. Over a period of time, green, purple and yellow have also been added into the color scheme of Halloween decorations and costumes. So what color are you wearing this Halloween day?
Telling Scary Stories
Originated In – Ireland
From the costumes to decorations, from food to games, everything on Halloween is some way or the other spooky. Why not some creepy stories to bring about that extra creepiness this Halloween. Often kids sit around a campfire sharing gory, spooky stories of ghosts, monsters and creepy creatures. Classic tales of the famous writer Washington Irving like, Headless Horseman, In Sleepy Hollow and Ichabod Crane are performed by actors who know how to really take creepiness up to the next level. The brave ones can take up a challenge of telling and listening to scary stories in the dark or around a bonfire in the woods, or even participate in marathons of scary Halloween movies.
Mischief Night Or Devil’s Night
Originated In – England
Playing pranks for Halloween often varies from region to region. The pre-Halloween tradition, also known as ‘Devil’s Night’ or ‘Mischief Night’ is credited to a different origin depending on the source. When Irish and Scottish immigrants came to America, they brought with them the tradition of celebrating Mischief Night as part of Halloween which became great candy-fueled pranksters. It’s believed that pranks were originally part of May Day celebrations, but Samhain, and eventually All Souls Day, seem to have included good-nature mischief.
The spookiest season of the year is just around the corner. Understanding these Halloween traditions will add more value to your spooky festivities. Invite your family and friends over for a fun filled Halloween this year and tell us how it was in the comment section below.
Some FAQ’s On Halloween Traditions
This myth of carving their own lanterns with pumpkins is done in the hope of warding away any evil spirits.
Generally families celebrate Halloween by attending costume parties, lighting bonfire and playing creepy pranks on others. Children have a good time during Halloween time collecting candy from trusted neighborhoods and eating good traditional food.
Halloween traces back to medieval Christianity where the word hallow is derived from the word holy. Halloween that falls on the night of the 31st of October is said to be the time when ghosts and witches can be seen. This falls just before the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Saints’ Day.
Some of the best destinations to celebrate Halloween is Ireland, Scotland, London, Salem, Italy, Prague, New Orleans, New York and Hong Kong. Parties, parades, fairs, tours, attractions and events makes it a very happening multi-day event.