Halloween is almost here and so I thought I’d find out some fun facts about the origins of Halloween traditions. I don’t remember much about Halloween as a kid, as it wasn’t much of a thing in South Africa, where I grew up, at least not in those days. So the first exposure I had to trick or treating was when I had my own children.
And now it’s become a huge deal! Halloween decorations are in the shops as soon as the kids are back at school. Halloween parties give us adults an excuse to dress up too. And costumes are getting fancier and scarier each year! But where did all these spooky customs come from? Here are the origins of four of our modern Halloween traditions.
4 modern Halloween traditions
Wearing Halloween costumes 👻
Halloween has been linked to Samhain, the Celtic festival marking the end of summer. It was believed that the veil between the living and the spirit world was thinnest at this time and spirits could cross over. People would keep the ghosts at bay by lighting sacrificial bonfires and dressing up in costumes, which is why we still wear fancy dress on Halloween today.
Trick or treating 🍬
Trick or treating became popular in the US early in the twentieth century when Irish and Scottish communities over there revived the Medieval custom of ‘guising’. This involved dressing up in costumes and going from door to door performing ‘tricks’ such as reciting poems or singing songs in exchange for food or money.
Bobbing for apples 🍎
This tradition originated as a divination ritual for people to find out who their future spouse might be. They’d bob their heads in water while trying to bite apples that would give them a clue. There seem to have been different versions of this. In one the ladies would mark an apple before tossing it in a tub of water and the man who pulled it out would likely be their future spouse. In another the women would bob their heads in water while trying to bite into apples that were named for their male suitors.
Jack O’Lanterns 🎃
This tradition originated in Ireland, where large turnips and potatoes were carved into decorations. It’s based on an Irish folk tale about a drunkard named Jack who managed to trap the devil in a tree by hacking a cross into the bark. Jack had Satan vow never to take his soul in exchange for allowing him down from the tree. Unfortunately, because he wasn’t a very good guy he wasn’t allowed into heaven when he died, and of course the devil couldn’t allow him into hell either, and threw a hot coal at him. Jack put the burning coal inside a turnip and used it as a lantern as he wandered around trying to find an eternal resting place.
Nowadays most people carve pumpkins into Halloween decorations. Looking at these carved turnips I think I can understand why – they’re much scarier looking and would probably terrify the kids! 😆
Bonus Halloween Fact
While I was researching these Halloween traditions I came across another fun fact that I couldn’t not share! Watching the Halloween movies at this time of year has become a tradition in its own right. But did you know that the iconic creepy mask worn by Michael Myers in the movie was based on a Star Trek mask? The original movie was on a very tight budget so they ended up using a cheap Captain James Kirk mask, which was spray painted white and had the eye holes reshaped. Who knew that William Shatner could look this terrifying with such minor adjustments?
Happy Halloween! 😱