Halloween Traditions Explained

During the Halloween season, people do all sorts of things that to someone foreign to this country might find extremely confusing and even a bit odd. Well, they would be absolutely right. It is a bit odd that families carve grim faces into the hollowed out pumpkins and put them on their doorsteps. And what about those trick-or-treaters? And what about all of those costumes people are wearing? They look almost as ridiculous as some of the houses that are all done up with spider webs, tombstones, and skeletons. Why do they do these weird and wild things? Is there any meaning behind any of it and if there is, whose idea was it? Well, there are some answers. They may not make sense of it all precisely, but they certainly give a reasonable explanation as to how some of these traditions started.

One of the favorite things people like to do during Halloween is to go to pumpkin patches and pick out large pumpkins to take home and hollow out. With the hollowed out pumpkin, the all famous Jack-o-lantern takes form. The Irish have a story about a man named Jack who spent his entire life playing tricks on people. The story goes that he tricked the Devil himself into a tree and tied him there. He bargained with the Devil that if he let him go, he would never tempt him again for the rest of his life. The Devil agreed reluctantly, leaving Jack to spend the rest of his life free from the influence of Satan’power. After Jack died, he was denied access into heaven because he had bargained with the Devil. However, the Devil wouldn’t permit Jack into Hell because he had tricked him. So instead, the Devil gave Jack the head of a hollowed out turnip, and he would roam the earth playing tricks in the night. Because of this story, the Irish would hallow out turnips and call them their Jack lanterns. When the Irish immigrated to America, they found that pumpkins were far easier to hollow out and were much easier to get during the fall season. The term of Jack-o-lantern stuck and is still what the face of the carved pumpkin is called.


The tradition of trick-or-treating came from the religious tradition from Europe of “souling.” On all souls day, it was believed that prayers offered for family members deceased who were caught in a state of limbo, as the church called it, would be permitted to go into heaven. The church did not say, however, that the prayers had to be offered by the family members. People would go around and collect prayer cakes in return for the offering of prayers for all of the family members that needed to move on into heaven. This idea of collecting treats for a service was diluted into collecting treats as an incentive for not playing a trick on that person’home. This tradition is probably the most popular today because of the opportunity to collect free candy.

The tradition of the black cat being bad luck came about from the Druids of old England. The Druids were an order of priests who started all of the superstition of ghosts, witches, and such. They convinced the church that cats were humans who had been wicked. They believed that all of these things came out on Halloween specifically to hurt the people of the church. The superstition of black cats, witches, and ghosts all carried over in a lighter version for modern day Halloween tradition.

Whatever Halloween tradition intrigues you the most, there is a history behind it. Despite what many people think, people at one point were actually afraid as a society of the un-dead and monsters. Then it was a serious fear while today it is a scary fantasy that entertains and frightens millions every year on October 31st.

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