Halloween traditions date back centuries

Kate Alexander, Staff Writer

Halloween is a holiday full of traditions including trick-or-treating, jack-o-lanterns, costumes, and lots more. What some don’t realize is that these traditions have been around for a very long time and have very interesting meanings. 

Halloween traditions were influenced by the festival of Samhian, a festival celebrated by the ancient Celtic people. This festival took place on October 31 for preparation for the new year on November 1. The Celtic people believed that the dead came back to earth on October 31, so they would light fires and wear costumes to ward off the ghosts that were supposedly coming back to haunt them. Later in the 800’s the Catholic Church changed the holiday to All Hallow’s Day Evening, a day to prepare for All Saint’s Day, November 1. The name eventually morphed into Halloween.The new celebration looked a bit different from the Samhian festival but most of the traditions remained very similar. The major difference was that saints were honored instead of spirits. 

People still participate in many of the same activities that the ancient Celtic people and the old Catholic Church used to today, for example, dressing up in costumes. This tradition was started because it was believed in the Celtic culture to ward off spirits. People thought that if they left their house they would have an encounter with a ghost, so in order to make the ghosts believe they were fellow spirits, people would wear masks outside. When the holiday was converted to a Catholic holiday, costumes were worn to honor the saints. Now, children and adults dress up to go to parties or to go trick or treating. 

Trick or treating also relates back to the festival of Samhian. The Celtic people would leave treats on their doorsteps for the dead that roamed on October 31. This was supposed to satisfy the ghosts that came back to earth during the festival. Some Catholics participated in something similar. Beggars would go door-to-door promising to pray to the saints in exchange for a soul cake, a small pastry baked with expensive ingredients. As time passed children would go door-to-door and coins, small toys, and nuts were passed out. It wasn’t until 1940s that candy started being given away. 

Another of the many popular Halloween traditions is carving jack o’lanterns. The story behind the scary pumpkins originated in Ireland. The folktale goes that a man named “Stingy Jack” played two tricks on the devil and the only way the devil could get out of the trick was if he was to promise to leave Stingy Jack alone and not to claim his soul after Stingy Jack died. Once Stingy Jack died the devil didn’t not claim his soul, but neither did God. As a result Stingy Jack was forced to roam in the night with only a piece of coal, which he put into a carved turnip. The Irish referred to this ghostly figure as “Jack of the Lantern” which morphed into jack o’lantern. Scottish and Irish people began to make their own version of Jack’s lantern by carving faces into various vegetables and fruits. Later, Scottish and Irish immigrants brought the tradition to America and it became one of the most popular ways to celebrate Halloween. 

Halloween is a special holiday that many don’t know much about. It is a holiday filled with stories and history that has been celebrated for centuries. The traditions may not be given a second thought but have tons of meaning.