Halloween approaching at a scary speed meaning it’s appropriate to do a Halloween themed post (and my first Halloween post too). With the spooky holiday being Octobers main interest, I thought I’d do a bit of digging (nope not in the graveyard) and see how certain Halloween traditions we all know came to be:
- Why do we dress up?: I’ve heard this before so maybe it’s pretty common knowledge, but I can’t do a Halloween post without bringing up the costumes. This originated from a Samhain tradition, which basically was a Gaelic festival to mark the end of the harvest and the welcoming of the ‘darker half of the year’. Back then they celebrated New Year on November 1st, so believed that spirits of the dead were able to overlap with the living during the transition into the New Year. This is why they dressed up and impersonated evil spirits – to fool them into thinking they were one of them. I guess it just evolved over time and became the money devouring tradition we know today.
- Why do we carve pumpkins?: There are a few different tales and versions of the ‘legend’ behind why we carve pumpkins but they all basically evolve around the same essence. Apparently, a village drunk named Jack, had a bit of a run in with the Devil and tricked him – eventually when it was Jack’s time to leave this world and go on to either Heaven or Hell, he was turned away from both gates because of his trickery. The Devil gave Jack a lump of coal to light his way on his journey of purgatory – which Jack carried inside a hollow turnip (resourceful little fellow for a drunk). Once the story had been told amongst the villagers and locals, Irish families placed hollowed, carved turnips (some with scary faces on) in their homes to scare away Jack and any unwanted ghouls. When the holiday hit the United States, Irish immigrants realised that the pumpkin (native to America) was much better for carving – and so began the evolution of pumpkin carvings on Halloween!
- Why does candy get given out on Halloween?: This apparently is based on the medieval custom called ‘souling’, which happened on All Souls Day. Early Christians made desserts and cakes, which were named ‘soul cakes’ to honour their dead. Children then went from house to house, offering to sing and pray for the dead loved ones upon receiving a cake (cheeky little monkeys even back in the day!).
- Why do we say Trick or Treat?: This is a fairly recent tradition in the world of Halloween, first being mentioned around 1920s. Relating back to ‘souling’, children would go door to door, preforming little fun tricks such as telling jokes, reciting poems or singing, in exchange for a yummy treat. It then went on to become the request of a treat, in exchange for avoiding any annoyance to the house such as window soaping etc.
- Why do we bob for apples on Halloween?: Now this one was a bit trickier to research as there’s a lot of speculation and arguing amongst historians about where and when it actually originated from, but this is just for fun so let’s not shy away. Supposedly it’s thought apple bobbing was related to fortune telling, originating in the British Isles. They believed that you had to catch an apple from the water in your mouth, peel it, pass the long peel three times around your head and then throw it over your shoulder, allowing it to fall to the ground and form a letter – which was the initial of your true love. I suppose it then got introduced into the Halloween festival maybe because of witch craft or something? Who knows, but it’s interesting to read!
Now I don’t claim that these fun facts are the absolute truth and reason as to why the many normal Halloween traditions of today came about, but I do think it’s interesting to read different interpretations and influences – seeing how these traditions have evolved and shaped the modern day festival we are familiar with today. Ending things on a Halloween note, here’s a 19th century ‘souling song’ that would have been sung for ‘soul cakes’ (extra points if you sing this if you go trick or treating this year):
A soul! a soul! a soul-cake!
Please good Missis, a soul-cake!
An apple, a pear, a plum, or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us all merry.
One for Peter, two for Paul
Three for Him who made us all.
Did you know where any of these ‘traditions’ came from? Do you know where any more originated from? Do you get involved in the spooky holiday?