Halloween (October 31) is fast approaching, meaning the season of pumpkins, scary costumes and trick-or-treating is upon us.
Many countries celebrate Halloween in this way, while others have their own traditions. But where do these classic All Hallows’ Eve activities even come from?
Some are spooky, others are silly, and many date back much further than you might expect.
Here are just a few, and their origin stories.
Trick or treating
Where exactly did the concept of youngsters dressing up, knocking on doors and chanting ‘trick or treat’ in exchange for a sweet or two come from?
There are a few theories. Some believe it connects to medieval Europe and the folk tradition of ‘mumming’ – which is effectively dressing up in costumes to act out a play.
Others reckon it comes from the Celtic holiday of Samhain, which took place in Great Britain and Ireland on October 31.
During this Pagan festival, it’s said that the poor or young would knock on houses, asking for food tributes, called ‘soul cakes’. In exchange, they would offer to pray for the dead.
Nothing is confirmed, and it might be a mixture of traditions. Where the sweets came from is anyone’s guess.
There is one academic paper on this subject – which suggests it began springing up in the US from the late 1920s and 1930s.
Carving pumpkin Jack-O’-Lanterns
Would it be Halloween without carving a spooky face on a pumpkin, before popping a light inside to add to the effect?
Probably not. Well, the Irish are to thank for that. Apparently, it dates back to when people in Ireland would use other vegetables, such as turnips or potatoes, to draw faces.
It all stems back to a folk tale about Jack – the Jack of ‘Jack-O’-Lantern – a man who had tricked the devil during his lifetime, and upon death, was denied entry into heaven and hell.
The devil gave him a flame, which he put inside a hollowed-out turnip, so he had a light to guide his path.
It is believed that when Irish immigrants made their way to North America, they discovered that the native pumpkin acted as a much better vegetable for transporting candles.
But if you want to scare off your neighbours, a carved turnip is a pretty terrifying sight.
Bobbing for apples
‘Bobbing for apples’ involves floating apples in a tub of water, and getting people to try to pick one up with just their teeth, hands behind their back.
It’s a highly-amusing game, largely associated with the autumn months and Halloween parties in particular.
Again, this is also loosely connected to Samhain. Thought to be a meld of Celtic and Roman traditions in Britain many centuries ago, the practice was used as a tool for finding love.
Apparently, the first person able to bite into the apple would be the next to get married!
Or would possibly dream the next night about their true love.
It’s probably not very Covid-safe, so if you were to try it now, you’d probably want a separate tub of water for each person playing. And of course, to thoroughly wash all the apples.
Traditionally, Irish people would eat their own type of ‘Halloween cake’.
It’s called Barmbrack, and is a fruit bread loaf made with raisins, dates or sultanas. It’s fairly quick to cobble ingredients together, but takes about an hour to bake.
Like apple-bobbing, it would be used in the past as a fortune telling cake. People could bake various objects and items into it, slice the loaf, and whatever item they saw could indicate what the future held.
A lot of the traditions we’ve covered are connected to Britain and Ireland, but what about the rest of the globe?
In Germany, there’s an old tradition which sees people hide all the knives in their house during All Souls’ Week.
Starting just before October 31, sharp knives are tucked away from view so spirits that have returned to Earth to roam won’t be harmed as they make their way.
Wearing scary costumes
Spooky costumes, scary masks and going all-out for Halloween is another tradition said to be connected to Samhain.
As part of the Gaelic festival, people believed that spirits could roam the Earth more easily on October 31.
So, they would wear costumes (usually animal fur or feathers) and dance in the street, lighting bonfires, in order to misdirect any evil spirits.
Partying on Halloween trains
In Japan, Halloween hasn’t always been celebrated. But expats living in its biggest cities do have their own tradition: taking over underground trains on October 31.
Known as ‘Halloween trains’, since the 1990s people in Tokyo have been dressing up and partying on trains, according to Kotaku.
At first, they were impromptu events spurred on by foreigners, eventually the subject of local protests – until they caught on, and became properly-organised celebrations.
Decorating using black and orange
It’s fairly recent that orange and black became the official colours of Halloween.
And it’s widely-reported that these were chosen not because of ancient tradition, but because they suit the time of year when Halloween takes place: autumn.
Orange can be seen in the leaves, and is also associated with fire – which links back to the flames seen in pumpkin Jack-O’-Lanterns.
Eating candy corn
It’s not super popular in the UK – but in the US, candy corn is eaten every Halloween.
The sweet treat reportedly originates from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and was created around 100 years ago.
Originally it was made on a seasonal basis – meaning it was out on shelves just in time for the end of October.
It also helps that the corn’s colours – orange, yellow and white – are on point for Halloween.
Spotting black cat icons
Often, the slinky black cat is associated with Halloween. But why, exactly?
Well, they’ve long been linked to dark things. First, the devil himself in the 1300s. Later, they became inextricably linked with witches.
It was believed witches could transform themselves into cats, and black cats became synonymous with a witch’s companion (familiar).
These spooky connections naturally feed into the superstition that if a black cat crosses you, it is bad luck – perhaps a visit from a witch or, much worse, Satan himself.
It’s now part of pop culture that the black cat is witchy and mysterious – think Salem on Sabrina The Teenage Witch.
Witch costumes are popular for October 31, so the black cat iconography often follows.
Credit: Original article published here.