The fascinating stories behind your favorite Halloween traditions – LifeSavvy

Three little girls in Halloween costumes walking down a porch with bags of treats or candy.
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If you live in the United States (and a growing number of other countries), October wouldn’t be complete without Halloween pumpkin carving, costumes, and candy. But these traditions that we now take for granted all have deep roots, which might surprise you.

You can trace many of today’s most popular holidays to the cultural and religious festivals of thousands of years ago, and Halloween is no exception. However, other influences have filtered through to make Halloween what it is today as well.

Where do these October traditions come from? Let’s take a look back at the Halloween story you never knew.


Many Halloween traditions have their roots in Samhain, the pagan religious holiday of the ancient Celts. Every Samhain, the Celts believed that the rift between our world and the spirit world was weakening, and that night every year the spirits roamed the Earth.

Trick-or-treat is just a tradition that comes from this ancient holiday. At first, food was left out to appease dangerous spirits during Samhain. But as this tradition passed through the centuries, people began to perform tricks or favors in exchange for food and drink.

In the Middle Ages, tradition involved the poor knocking on the doors of the rich for “soul cakes” in exchange for prayers for the souls of deceased family members of the rich. In Ireland and Scotland, this tradition was adopted by children and nicknamed “guising” because they wore costumes or “disguises” when knocking on doors for treats. Children would also perform a “trick”, such as a song or a joke, to get a treat.

Eventually, European immigrants brought a modern version of this practice to the United States. Around this time, many people also celebrated Mischief Night, which involved causing trouble the night before Halloween. To distract from these pranks, communities encouraged trick-or-treat as a peaceful alternative and gave us the tradition we now practice.


Halloween costumes are another tradition that started with Samhain. Since spirits were believed to roam the Earth during this time, festival-goers wore costumes made from animal skins so that evil spirits would not recognize them. If the costume was scary enough, the Celts believed that spirits would mistake them for another spirit and leave them alone.

Later, this tradition seems to have turned into “guisement”, which was the earlier version of trick-or-treat. European immigrants to the United States brought the tradition with them, where it was encouraged as a positive activity for children.

By this time, the idea of ​​singing or praying in exchange for treats had become less popular, and the night became entirely devoted to costumes and candy.

Halloween candy

How did mass-produced candy become such a part of Halloween? Unsurprisingly, the answer concerns large companies.

The rationing of sugar during World War II made candy a shortage, even on Halloween. When the rations ended, the candy brands were about to exploit trick-or-treat like the money maker they knew it could be.

Trick-or-treat fits perfectly with the organized healthiness of the 1950s suburbs. Candy makers pushed this idea, along with their hygienic, affordable, individually wrapped products, until they became mainstays. Halloween.


Three children at a table carving a pumpkin.

Pumpkin lanterns decorate porches across the United States each October. This tradition is hundreds of years old and has its roots in an Irish myth about a man called Stingy Jack.

He invited the Devil for a drink and tried to evade payment by convincing the Devil to turn into a coin for the purchase. Jack kept the Devil in the form of a coin in his pocket next to a silver cross, to keep it from reverting to its true form.

Eventually, Jack decided to free the Devil on one condition: the Devil could not take his soul upon his death. He then tricked the Devil again and trapped him in a tree by cutting a cross in the bark.

When Jack died, God couldn’t let him into Heaven, but neither could the Devil take his soul, because of their agreement. Jack’s soul was banished to Earth with a single hot coal for light, which he kept in a hollow turnip.

In Ireland, Scotland and England, people carved faces from turnips, potatoes and beets and placed them near the entrances to their homes to celebrate this legend. According to superstition, the sculptures would ward off wandering spirits, like Jack’s. When immigrants brought this tradition to the United States, they adopted pumpkins for carvings.

Although the original folklore has largely been forgotten, the tradition of pumpkin carving has spread and spread across the country.

Bonfires and parties

We can also thank the ancient Celts and Samhain for the bonfires and celebrations of the season.

The Celtic New Year started on November 1, so Samhain was more than a scary time for the spirits, it was also New Years Eve. As this also marked the end of the harvest season, there was usually a lot bonuses (and alcohol) to feast on. The feast of Samhain was obligatory – if you did not show up, the Celts believed that the gods would punish you.

Bonfires were also an important part of the celebration. Animals and crops were sacrificed in the fire to keep the deities happy. Families also used the flames of bonfires to rekindle their homes in anticipation of the coming cold.

As we mentioned above, when these traditions hit the United States, the holidays were more kid-focused to cut down on Mischief Night pranks. However, adult Halloween celebrations are once again very popular, just as they were thousands of years ago in Samhain.

Bobbing for apples

One of the weirdest Halloween traditions is using your face to pull an apple out of a tub filled with water.

The origin of this ritual is not clear. Some believe that it comes from a Roman tradition honoring Pomona, the goddess of trees and fruits, who was represented by the apple. After the Romans conquered the Celtic lands, their autumnal apple ritual could have merged with the celebration of the Samhain of the Celts.

However, there is not enough historical evidence to support this theory. What we do know is that the modern version of bobbing for apples evolved from an Irish game called Snap-Apple.

To play Snap-Apple, you had to grab an apple with your mouth as it swung across a spinning wooden board. A lit candle at the other end of the board added a level of suspense: either you grabbed the apple or you burned your face. This risky harvesting tradition has become so popular that for a while Halloween was called Snap-Apple Night in parts of Ireland and England.

Over the years, players have ditched the burning candle and skateboarding in favor of a pot of water with apples. It might be safer that way, but it’s not very hygienic, which might explain why the search for apples has fallen into disuse in recent years.


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