October rolls around and the anxious excitement of the holiday season starts to electrify your blood. You think back on years past of all of the fun times that you had, and there are some very specific traditions that stick out in your memory. Who can forget the first time they went trick-or-treating? Or how about that Halloween party where you actually bobbed for apples? You think to how scared you were going through a spook alley even with your dad right beside you. Halloween, like any other holiday, is just chock-full of traditions ranging from the ornate to the simple. Halloween wasn’t just about candy and corn-mazes, it was about the thrill of fantasy becoming almost real enough to scare you for one night. One night out of the year, there could be a chance for you to see a ghost or finally actually see a witch fly through the moonlit sky. Here is where some of those favorite traditions came from.
Trick-or-treating actually came from a British tradition of going “souling.” On November 2nd, people would go around the town collecting prayer cakes in return for offering prayers to the saints to allow people to enter heaven. The idea of collecting special treats at the door of a stranger transferred over well to an American holiday that needed treats somewhere in its festivities. So the next time you are out trick-or-treating with your child, just think that people hundreds of years before were out doing pretty much what you are, but would sit on the steps and say prayers to the dead. Think about that and try not to get a thrill from a chill that creeps up the spine. Or maybe to be funny, request that the children say prayers for you in order to get candy from your bucket. That may or may not go over too well.
What about that tradition of bobbing for apples? The Romans during the first century AD adopted some of the Celtic traditions of Samhain that happened around the same part of the year and incorporated them into their own holiday. The Romans on one of these days worshiped Pamona, the Goddess of fruits and trees. The sign that she was known by was that of an apple. Some people link Samhain and this Roman holiday, as well as other traditions around the time of year, to modern day Halloween which leaves some speculating if that might be where the idea of bobbing for apples came from. Playing bobbing for apples is scary enough as it is sticking your head into a tub of water with friends all around who are ready to hold your head under at any second.
One of the more fun traditions is dressing up in a costume. Where did that all come from? During the Celtic festival Samhain, the Irish would gather up wood on the hilltop that would be lit into bonfires to respect the gods. From the large fires they would take an ember and place it in a hollowed out turnip to take home and start a fire. Walking home in the dark was quite nerve racking because of the fear of spirits. So what they would do is dress up in costumes and carve a face in the turnip. They figured they would ward off the spirits and make it home safely after the festival. Today dressing up in costumes is the main part of Halloween and is done so with a spirit of fun rather than a spirit of precaution or self defense.
All of these things came together to make Halloween what it is today. To appreciate what traditions we have today, we need to know why we have them and where they came from. Even though the reasons for why we are doing them may change, the fact that we are still doing them is a kind of kindred connection we have with people from hundreds of years ago. It is because of them that we have some of those favorite Halloween traditions.