Halloween Traditions: The Origins

  • By: Damien R. (Romero)
  • Date: August 23, 2022
  • Time to read: 9 min.
  • The word “Halloween”, which means “hallowed evening”, comes from All Hallows Eve. “
  • Halloween’s history dates back to a pagan festival called Samhain.
  • Many centuries ago, people dressed as saints to go door-to-door. This is what spawned Halloween costumes and trick or treating.

Some of the most beloved Halloween traditions include trick-or-treating and carving pumpkins. The origins of Halloween lie in the Celtic festival Samhain, pronounced “SAHWIN” in Gaelic. This pagan religious celebration welcomed the harvest at the end of summer. People would light bonfires and wear ghostly costumes to keep away the spirits. Pope Gregory III declared November 1 a day to honor saints in the eighth century. Soon after, All Saints Day was created to include some Samhain traditions. All Hallows Eve was the evening preceding All Saints Day. Later, it became Halloween. Here’s a look at some of the most well-known Halloween traditions.

As leaves turn to oranges and yellows, temperatures drop, and you start to pull out sweaters and jackets, it’s time to deck out your porch with pumpkins and get to carving and brainstorming Halloween treats and costumes. Trick-or-treating (or perhaps more exciting for adults, an excuse to sip on a boozy Halloween cocktail ) is just around the corner, and frightful fun and perhaps some Halloween party games await.

Do you ever wonder what Halloween’s origin and history is amid all the fun? We have answers to your questions about Halloween’s origin, history, and ties to pagan holidays. This holiday was created many, many decades ago. The witches, wizards, and other characters that makeup today’s celebrations are also part of this story.

Although Halloween is always the last Saturday in October, it was known before that it was called All Hallows Eve. It paid tribute to the saints and the holiday set on All St.’s Day the next day. This is November 1. All Hallow’s Eve was held on May 13. However, it moved to autumn after Pope Boniface IV called for the event, possibly to make up the difference with a religious celebration. The triple-word All Hallows Eve was eventually shortened to Halloween.

Here are some fun facts about Halloween on October 31.

What is Halloween

Halloween is a holiday celebrated in North America on October 31st. It is originally believed to be the Dutch harvest festival, renamed “halloween” in honor of the 15th-century Dutch explorer and cartographer Gerard van Ruisdael. The holiday is celebrated as a day to frighten away evil spirits, and many traditional Halloween costumes are based on horror movies or television shows.

Why do we celebrate Halloween on October 31st?

Halloween falls on October 31 because of the ancient Gaelic holiday of Samhain. This day is considered to be the first known root of Halloween. This day was pivotal in the year when the seasons changed. But, more importantly, it allowed observers to believe that the boundary between the worlds became thinner at this time, which enabled them to communicate with the dead. Other cultures share similar beliefs. Yom Kippur is a Jewish holiday that occurs in October. It involves praying for the dead. Halloween also has a haunted connotation.

Halloween Activities: The History

Samhain, an early pagan holiday, was filled with ritualistic ceremonies connected to spirits. The Celts were polytheistic. Although not much information is available about these celebrations and the Celts who celebrated them in costume (granted, they were as simple as animal hides) to protect themselves from ghosts, enjoy special feasts, and make lanterns out of gourds (hence the history of Jack-o’-lanterns). The holiday’s basic traditions remained part of popular culture each year, even though Christianity gained power and the pagan undertones were diminished.

In the modern era, mystical rituals have replaced lighter-hearted games and fun. The idea of connecting with the dead, which was a rather heavy concept, was replaced by the lighter idea of predicting the future. For example, bobbling for apples became a popular All Hallows’ Eve fortune-telling game. Apples were chosen to represent all the suitors of a woman, and the man–er, apple she ended up eating would supposedly be her future husband. In reality, Halloween was a popular (although superstitious!) matchmaking opportunity for young women in 19th-century America.

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Mirror-gazing was another popular All Hallows Eve ritual. People hoped to see their future through the mirror and thus get a glimpse of it. Reports also suggest that fortune cookie-type favors were given during earlier times. People used milk to write messages, folded the notes and put them in walnut shells. The milk would brown enough to make the message magically appear on the paper, so the shells were heated and placed over a fire.

Carving Jack-o’-Lanterns

The tradition of carving Jack-o’-Lanterns was started in Ireland with turnips as an alternative to pumpkins. The legend is about Stingy Jack, a man who trapped the Devil repeatedly and allowed him to go only on the condition that Jack would not go to Hell. Jack could not leave Heaven and was made to roam the Earth as a ghost until his death. The Devil gave Jack a glowing lump of coal and a turnip to light his path. Locals began to carve scary faces into turnips to scare away evil spirits.

History of Halloween Costumes and Trick-or-Treating

People were known to dress up in saint costumes and sing or recite verses from door to door. Children would ask for soul cakes, a similar treat to biscuits, from their neighbors. Technical Note: Soul cakes were originally part of the All Souls Day holiday on November 2. (yes, it’s the third holiday! However, soul cakes became part of trick-or-treating and eventually became part of All Souls’ Day. In the United States, candy-grabbing became a popular holiday tradition in the mid-to-late 1900s. Children were treated by their families, hoping they would not be tricked.

They also evolved in terms of costumes. They became as well. While they were originally intended to be honors to saints, this tradition probably fell out of favor. Then young Irish and Scottish pranksters came up with the idea of dressing in frightening-looking garb to scare neighbors. These local hooligans made Halloween costumes scary, funny, creative, and spooky.

How Halloween is Celebrated Today

Although Halloween is still a top-rated holiday in America, it almost didn’t make the Atlantic. The Puritans disapproved of Halloween’s pagan roots and didn’t participate in the celebrations. The holiday was reintroduced into American culture after more Irish and Scottish immigrants arrived in America. Large public celebrations were held at the first American colonial Halloween celebration to celebrate the harvest, tell ghost stories and dance.

According to estimates, Halloween was celebrated in North America by the majority (candy-loving and costume-wearing) population by the 20th century. This year, Halloween will be celebrated by all of us, with everyone enjoying their favorite candy and admiring the decorations of our neighbors on October 31. The only scary spirits we’ll discuss are our friends’ ghost and witch costumes.

Scary Costumes

To avoid being terrorized during Samhain by the evil spirits that roam the Earth, the Celts donned disguises to ensure they wouldn’t be mistaken for ghosts and were left alone.

Apples for Bobbing

Bobbing for apples is a Halloween tradition that has been around for years. However, its roots are more in love and romance. The game resulted from a Roman festival that honored Pomona, a goddess of abundance and agriculture. There were many versions of the game, but the basic idea was that young women and men could predict their future relationships using the game. The Pomona festival was combined with Samhain, an earlier Halloween when the Romans conquered Britain in 43 AD.

Seeing Ghosts

Samhain was the festival that marked the beginning of winter and the end of harvest. Celtic people believed spirits could walk the Earth during Samhain. Later, Christian missionaries introduced All Souls’ Day on November 2, which maintained the belief that the living comes into contact with the deceased around the same time each year.

Trick-or-Treating

Although there is much debate about the origins and purpose of trick-or-treating, there are generally three main theories. According to the first theory, trick-or-treating originated during Samhain when Celtic people left food out for the spirits that travel the Earth at night. People began to dress up as these unearthly beings over time in return for similar food and drink.

According to the second theory, the candy boon results from the Scottish practice called guising. This was a secularized version of “souling” Children and adults collected food and money from their neighbors in exchange for prayers for the dead on All Souls’ Day. Guisers dispensed with prayers and replaced them with non-religious practices that included songs, jokes, and many other “tricks.”

Another theory is that trick-or-treating in America today stems from “belsnickeling,” an American-German Christmas tradition in which children dressed up as Santa Claus and called their neighbors to find out if they could identify the masks. They were given food or other treats if no one recognized the child.

Black Cats

Black cats are believed to be a demon symbol. It was unsurprising that witches accused of being evil were found to have black cats centuries later. People began to think that the cats were a witch’s “familiar”-supernatural entities that would assist in their practice of dark magic-and black cats and spookiness had been linked ever since.

Black and Orange

The Celtic festival Samhain also inspired the traditional Halloween colors of orange and black. Black was the death of summer, while orange represented the harvest season.

Pranking

Pranks can vary from region to region, but the pre-Halloween tradition called ” Devil’s Night” is often credited to a different source. Some believe that the May Day celebrations were responsible for the origin of the pranks.

Samhain and later All Souls Day also featured good-natured mischief. The tradition of celebrating Mischief Night in America was brought by Irish and Scottish immigrants who arrived from Ireland.

Bats

The earliest proto-Halloween celebrations had bats present, both literally and symbolically. Celts lit bonfires as part of Samhain. This attracted insects which, in turn, attracted bats. The festival was soon connected to the sighting of bats. Medieval folklore emphasized the eerie nature of bats and included a variety of superstitions based on the belief that they were harbingers for death.

Lighting Candles and Bonfires

In the early days of Halloween, tall bonfires were used to light the way for those who wished to enter the afterlife. Nowadays, lighting candles have replaced large traditional bonfires.

Candy Apples

People have been covering the fruit with syrup for centuries. During the Roman festival of Pomona, the goddess was associated with and represented apples. Her name comes from the Latin word “pomum”, which means that the fruit is central to harvest celebrations. William W. Kolb, an American candymaker, invented candy apples accidentally in 1908.

According to the legend, Kolb was trying red cinnamon candy for Christmas. He dipped apples in red glaze and placed them in his shop window to show off his new candy. He ended up selling the sweets to customers who liked the taste of the apples. They were popular treats for Halloween in the early 1900s and remained so until the 1970s.

Devouring Candy

Since Halloween celebrations began, handing out candy to strangers has been part of Halloween festivities. However, candy was not the only “treat” that children received until the middle of the 20th century. As much as candy was given out, it was also possible to give out fruit, nuts, and coins.

In the 1950s, trick-or-treating became more popular and inspired candy companies to make small, individually wrapped candies. The convenience of candy attracted people to them, but it didn’t dominate all other treats until the 1970s, when parents began to fear anything unwrapped.

Candy Corn

The invention of tri-colored candy is often credited to a candymaker at Philadelphia’s Wunderle Candy Company. Candy corn was not a huge hit until 1898 when the Goelitz Company introduced it to the masses. Originally called “Chicken Feed”, candy corn was sold in boxes with the slogan “Something worth cheering for.” Candy corn was initially a fall candy due to corn’s association of harvest. After trick-or-treating became more popular in the United States in the 1950s, candy corn was made Halloween-specific.

How Do You Get Started in the Halloween Season

There are several ways to get started in the Halloween season: by planning your costumes, going out and enjoying free or discounted activities, or celebrating with family and friends. To find out more about how to get started, check out our article on how to start your Halloween season properly.

What Are the Different Types of Halloween Costumes

There are three main Halloween costumes: traditional costumes such as ghosts, witches, and goblins, spooky outfits like cat masks and snakeskin jackets, and masquerade characters like clowns and tigers. To find out more about each type of costume, check out our article on how to choose the right outfit for you!

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