The Origins and Customs of Halloween
You’ve surely heard about Halloween by now, and even though you might be familiar with the basic concept, we’re going to take a closer look on the holiday’s origins and main customs. Also known as All Hallows’ Eve or All Saints’ Eve, this highly popular yearly celebration is believed to have been influenced by western European harvest festivals and festivals of the dead, even though most experts concur that Halloween is rooted in Christianity. The most common conception regarding the origins of Halloween is that it is somehow connected to the old holy days of All Saints’ Day, when people would honor the saints and pray for the souls of the recent dead who did not get a chance to reach Heaven yet.
The holiday is celebrated in various corners of the globe on October 31, and it has a slightly sinister feeling since its customs involve telling scary stories, watching horror films or visiting “haunted” sites or graveyards. Costume parties and trick-or-treating (guising) are perhaps the most popular and widespread customs on Halloween, as well as carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns, apple bobbing and lighting bonfires.
Trick-or-treating is definitely the most common activity associated with All Hallows’ Eve, and it involves children dressing up in costumes and going from door to door asking for money or treats with the famous question “trick or treat?” By saying these words, the children effectively “threaten” the homeowner with an act of mischief if he or she refuses to provide a treat. The record of the first Guising on Halloween in North America dates all the way back to 1911. The costumes worn by the children on this very special night are usually inspired from supernatural beings such as skeletons, ghosts, monsters, devils and witches but many other costumes based on more earthly figures started to emerge over time, including those that involve celebrities or fiction characters.
The custom of carving pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns probably originates from old Samhain and Celtic beliefs. During the 19th century, people who lived in the Scottish Highlands and in some parts of Ireland used to carve faces onto their turnip lanterns so that they would provide protection from evil spirits.
Candy apples are associated with Halloween because the event takes place roughly at the same time with the yearly apple harvest. A candy apple is an ordinary apple covered with sugar syrup and flavored with nuts.
Scotland and Ireland are widely known for celebrating Halloween long before it was ever recognized in the United States, but due to a massive transatlantic immigration during the 19th century, the event became highly popular in North America. Nowadays, Halloween is recognized and enjoyed in countries such as Japan, New Zealand, South America, Australia and in most of continental Europe.