Halloween History and Traditions

Now that I’m an adult, I’ve been working on continuing and establishing traditions. During the holidays is when the most traditions happen, and I’m realizing that I don’t have a good list of traditions or what they mean. So I did some research online, and have my results to share with you all.

Halloween History

Ancient Celts celebrated an annual festival called Samhain which happened over a 3 day period. The Celts believed that during the period between the ending of one year and beginning of the next the boundary between the living and dead blurred and the veil was lifted, allowing spirits to freely wander the earth. In particular, those that had died during the year were now able to enter the land of the dead where they belonged. Huge sacred bonfires were lit and all home fires put out; at the end of the festival embers were carried back to the home to re-light the hearth fires there. The bonfires were very special, and lighting home hearth fires with their embers would certainly carry good fortune for the next year. Embers were often carried home in hollowed out vegetables such as turnips, gourds or rutabagas. The Roman celebration of Feralia and Pomona, commemorating the dead near the end of October, mixed well with Samhain. When the Celts adopted the Gregorian calendar, the festival was scheduled for October 31st. Christianity began to spread across Europe, but the Celts stubbornly held to their Pagan beliefs. Pope Gregory III took note of the problem with Celts and changed the date of “All Saints Day” to Nov. 1. and the evening prior to All Saints Day became “Hallow’s Eve”.

America didn’t have anything to do with Halloween until the mid -1800’s when they saw a large influx of Irish immigrants. The Irish introduced jack-o-lanturns (and started using pumpkins instead of turnips) and guising. In the 1900’s Halloween celebrations were mostly parties, and parents were told to remove anything grotesque. By 1950, Halloween was a widely accepted secular community holiday.

Halloween Traditions

Dressing up and tick or treating – The poor would go door to door on Nov. 1, asking for “soul cakes” in return for a promise to pray for the giver’s dead relatives on Nov. 2, All Soul’s Day. Deeper roots probably go even further back to the practice on Samhain of putting food offerings on the doorstep at night to placate the dead that were roaming the night then. Guising was a similar practice, where children dressed in costume visited homes asking for coins, fruits or cakes in exchange for a song or telling a funny joke. In return, the children were given food, money, or apples. Carrying scooped out turnips with candles in them for lanterns this practice is much closer to the modern trick or treating. Guising is recorded in 1895 in Scotland and in North America in 1911.

Jack-o-lanturns – The story is that in Ireland there was a man named Jack O’Lantern. Jack was a drunkard, lewd and a petty thief. Jack tricked the devil into promising to never take Jack into Hell. Eventually Jack died but, being the man he was, couldn’t enter heaven. Jack visited the devil, asking him to take back his promise and let Jack into Hell, but the devil refused. Jack was forced back out of Hell, but on leaving the devil flipped him an eternal coal from the fires of hell, and even today Jack still roams Ireland, carrying that coal in a hollowed out turnip to light his way.







Also see my post about Christmas


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One thought on “Halloween History and Traditions

  1. Pingback: Christmas Traditions and History | So Now What?

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