Halloween Traditions

Ever wonder how some Halloween traditions began over the years? 

Stuart Miles

Costumes      Dressing in costumes began in the Pagan Celtic roots of Samhain (pronounced “sow-en”). One theory is they dressed as ghouls to fool evil spirits to leave on October 31, so they would not be possessed by these spirits. Another concept is they dressed in costume just for fun, and to misbehave. Yet another theory is that faeries would dress as beggars asking for food, which would also be the beginning of the “trick or treat” practice. After the Catholic Church replaced Samhain with All Saints Day, people would dress as dead Saints and devils for their festivities.

Trick or Treat     This practice might have had its start in the legend from Celtic days that faeries would dress as beggars going from door to door asking for food, and those that did not show hospitality would be harshly dealt with by these magical faeries. On All Souls Day, the poor would beg for “Soul Cakes” (sweet pastries) in exchange for prayers for their departed loved ones, hurrying up their passage to heaven. Sometimes people in costumes would sing and perform in exchange for food, ale, or money. In the United Kingdom, Guy Fawkes effigies (or known as “statues”) to be burned were prepared by children, going door to door, asking for a penny for Guy, on Guy Fawkes Day. Some background on this is on November 5, 1606; Guy Fawkes was executed for attempting to blow up England’s Parliament. Fawkes, along with an extremist Catholic organization he belonged to, wanted to remove the Protestant King James from his throne. The English wasted no time to have a celebration to replace All Hallows Day, so Guy Fawkes Day was celebrated from then on.

Bonfires        These have two origins. The first is the sacred ritual of extinguishing home fires, and one sacred bonfire is lit in each town for the end of the New Year. Some say the reason home fires were put out is to scare away evil spirits from homes, while others say that home fires were supposed to be lit from embers from the sacred bonfire to start the New Year. The second origin was from Guy Fawkes Day in the United Kingdom to burn effigies of the Catholic pope, and later of Guy Fawkes himself.

Apples     They are the seasonal fruit and also the symbol of the Roman goddess Pomona, commonly known at the time to possess qualities of knowledge, resurrection, and immortality. Bobbing for apples, peeling a long apple peel, and other influences of the fruit were thought to foretell the future, on this night of Samhain.


Jack o’lanterns     These come from the Irish folk tale of Jack, who tricked the devil, but was not allowed in heaven or in hell. The devil, taking pity of Jack, gave him an ember to light his way on his eternal walks on Earth, carried in a hollowed out turnip. Because of their size and availability, pumpkins were substituted for turnips in the United States. The Celtics did use a hollowed out rutabaga to carry an ember from the sacred Samhain bonfire home to light their home fires, but the importance and origin to the Irish tale of Jack is unknown.

Ghost Stories     Ghost stories probably have their roots in the original Celtic belief that the spirits of the dead (both good and bad) wandered the Earth on October 31 (Samhain). Later, when the church replaced Samhain with All Saints Day and All Souls Day, the dead were remembered, and spoken about. In the United States today, they are used to amuse and scare children (and some adults) to get them in the “spirit” of Halloween. 

Source: http://www.halloween-history.org/ 26 October 2011.

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