The History of Halloween Traditions

Halloween hasn’t always been trick-or-treating and dressing up as astronauts. Some of our favorite Halloween traditions have been around for thousands of years.


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The traditions of carving Jack-o-Lanterns comes from beliefs that their faces would scare unwanted souls away.

By Brenna Buchanan, Staff Writer

Halloween has been celebrated in many different ways throughout the last two thousand years. Although the holiday is very popular in the United States, it didn’t originate from here.

According to MentalFloss, Halloween was first celebrated by the Celtics with a festival that marked the end of the harvest season and the start of a new year. It’s said that on this day souls could communicate with humans.

During the festival, the Celtics would light bonfires and dress in costumes to ward off unwanted spirits. Many people would dress up in spirit like costumes to not be recognized as humans. This sparked the modern tradition of wearing scary costumes on Halloween.

One theory following the tradition of Trick-or-Treating is that the Celtics would leave out food and treats out to bribe the spirits to stay away on the night of the festival.
Another theory is that the tradition stemmed from German-American communities where children would dress up and have local adults try to guess their identities. Those who could not be identified would be rewarded with candy.

Bobbing for apples, a traditional game where participants use only their mouths to grab apples from a bucket of water, dates back to the Celtic festival as well. According to Liveabout, the tradition began as a way to worship Pomona, the ancient Roman goddess of fruits, trees, and gardens.

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The carving of pumpkins into Jack-o-lanterns originated in Ireland. According to History, the tradition stemmed from the Irish legend of Stingy Jack. The story goes that Jack first tricked the Devil into turning himself into a coin. Jack later tricked the devil into being stuck in a tree. The devil promised that when Jack died, he would not let him into hell.
Later in life when Jack finally died, God would not let him into heaven and the devil would not let him into hell. With nowhere to go, Jack wandered the Earth with nothing but a burning piece of coal to light his way. He placed his coal into a carved-out turnip and used it as a lantern. This coined the term Jack-o-lantern.

Many Irish and Scottish families would carve scary faces into turnips and potatoes. They placed the vegetables onto their kitchen windows to ward off Stingy Jack and other spirits. As the years when on more people began to carve pumpkins rather than turnips and potatoes.

Although the Halloween traditions that we celebrate now are somewhat different than how they started, most of the purposes can relate to how we celebrate this spooky holiday now.