Unexpected Origins of Favourite Halloween Traditions

Getting a glimpse into the supernatural, that intrigues almost everyone. Halloween is a holiday that's all about the mysterious and unknown aspects of life. So perhaps that goes some way to explaining its massive popularity.

Discover the meaning behind your favourite holiday


Getting a glimpse into the supernatural, that intrigues almost everyone. Halloween is a holiday that's all about the mysterious and unknown aspects of life. So perhaps that goes some way to explaining its massive popularity. Halloween is one of the USA's most popular holidays, with a staggering six billion dollars spent celebrating this spooky day every year.


The festival is almost certainly a continuation of our Pagan past, being derived from the Celtic fire festival of Samhain. Celebrated from sundown on October 31st until dawn on November 1st, it's one of the most important dates in the Pagan calendar. Being at the mid point of Fall season, Samhain marks the coming of winter, when, in the past, the last remnants of the harvest were gathered, stored and preserved for the cold months ahead.


Spiritually speaking, Samhain is a particularly mystical time of year, when the link between the spirit world and our own world is considered to be at its strongest. Many people talk about the veil being thinnest at Halloween, meaning you might have the chance to glimpse into a supernatural world which is usually concealed from view.

The power of elemental beings, such as elves and fairies, is thought to be at its height.


Halloween Traditions:


Lighting Candles

Although you may not know it, this is one of the most meaningful Halloween traditions. Halloween was always a festival of the dead - but it was far from the fright-fest that the modern celebrations have become. In Pagan times, death was merely a transition to another phase of existence, rather than an ending. So people remembered the spirits of their dead loved ones at Halloween by lighting a candle to guide family spirits back home. Often, places were set at the table to welcome the spirits of departed loved ones back to their families. While this might sound a bit creepy, spirits of deceased family members were expected to bring blessings rather than provoke shocked screams at the dinner table!


Pumpkin Carving

Carving a fearsome face into a pumpkin is one of the best loved traditions of the season. Along with the candle placed inside it, its purpose is to frighten away any unwanted spirits and protect the occupants of the home, while guiding friendly family ghosts back home The tradition originated in the UK, where turnips were carved, instead. But the bigger, softer and brighter colour of the pumpkin eventually made it the first choice worldwide. In the UK, carved pumpkins were traditionally called

Jack O'lanterns, which comes from an Irish folktale about a man who tricked the devil and made him promise not to take his soul. When Jack died he was denied entry into heaven because of his dissolute life but the devil could not claim him, either. So Jack wanders the earth with a lantern looking for a place to rest. So its his spooky face that you are commemorating on your pumpkin.



Trick or Treat?

There's more to this most popular of Halloween traditions than knocking on the neighbours' door for a handful of candy. It probably comes from a custom called 'souling', where wealthy people gave food to poorer people in exchange for prayers. Later, this transformed in to a game for children to knock on doors and sing or recite a poem in exchange for sweets or chocolate. Now, children and adult dress up in spooky costumes to go knocking on doors. Many people enjoy this yearly visit, getting into the spirit of the occasion. But the modern idea that a gift is expected in exchange for nothing, or a trick will be played upon you - is a shame because the original good intent of an exchange of gifts or positive energy is ignored.


Apple dunking

The traditional games at Halloween parties are about seeing into your future. Apples were a key part of the Samhain harvest so it's natural that they play a big role in its celebrations. Dunking for apples is a fun, if somewhat unhygienic, way to utilise the fruit. The apple peel was traditionally thrown over the shoulder to spell out the initial of a future spouse. Or sharing an apple with your beloved was supposed to signify that s/he would always return to you. Look into a mirror at midnight and it was said you will see a vision of your future husband staring back at you - very scary!



Everyone's favourite part of Halloween is making or choosing a costume to wear. The tradition of dressing up as a monster or spook was to keep the real monsters away from you. It dates back to Celtic times in the UK, when the days of winter were short and the dark nights long and cold. A scary season! So the thinking behind dressing up in ghoulish costumes was to scare evil spirits away. The idea was if you dressed as one of them, you'd fool them into thinking you were one of them, so they'd leave you alone.



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