Halloween Traditions and History - Snap Apple Night

Snap-Apple Night ~

Snap-Apple Night, painted by Daniel Maclise in 1833, shows people feasting and playing divination games on Halloween in Ireland.
Snap-Apple Night, painted by Daniel Maclise in 1833, shows people feasting and playing divination games on Halloween in Ireland. | Source

Hallowed evening ~

Halloween traditions and history are ancient. The holiday was not referred to as Halloween till about 1745. It means "hallowed evening" or "holy evening" and is of Christian origin. Snap apple night is celebrating Halloween at a party with bobbing for apples, divination games, feasting and all around fun. It is an Irish tradition.

It is that time of year again when ghouls, ghosts, goblins and all kinds of spooks start gearing up to go bumping around in the dark corridors of our imaginations and scare as many poor souls as they can.

Autumn! what a beautiful time of year and yet it can be eerily frightening as you walk alone down that dark street on your way home, the leaves rustling after you as if something is following close behind. The shadows of trees and shrubs looking as if there is something lurking just beyond the safety of the street lamp glow, lamps that are much too far apart for your peace of mind.

Just around the corner is the spookiest time of the year, Halloween! Why has this holiday turned into such a frightful experience? Why is it considered by many as a satanic celebration? Let us take a brief look at the ancient history of this day and find out how it has changed over the years.

Ancient history ~

According to ancient history, Halloween was really not created to scare people out of their wits! It comes down to us from what is now Ireland, England and northern France, from the Celts of over 2,000 years ago. November 1 marked the end of summer and the harvest, began the time of darkness, bitter cold and, often in those times, death.

The night before the new year (October 31 for ancient Celts), the veil between life and death became much thinner, when ghosts of the departed could return. For this reason, on October 31, Samhain was celebrated.

Samhain ~

The Celts believed by having the spirits present when the veil thinned, it was easy for the Druids to predict the future. This brought peace of mind and security to the people who were facing months of struggle through the long cold and dark winter ahead of them. It gave the people something to cling to with hope.

During the Samhain celebration the people had huge bonfires, built by the Druids, and wore costumes. Because they did not have action cartoon figures or modern day heroes to go by, they used the best things they had - animal heads and skins to mimic or placate the evil spirits that might destroy their crops and bring misfortune.

They reveled and told fortunes to each other. When the celebrating ended, they took to their homes flames from the sacred bonfires to light their home hearth fires. This gave them protection during the winter, with warmth from the ever burning hearth of sacred flames.

After the Celts were conquered by the Romans in 43 A.D., two other festivals, Feralia and Pomona, of the Roman origin were added to Samhain, Feralia and Pomona.

Spirit of the dead stele ~

The abbreviation D.M. at the top of this 3rd-century Christian tombstone stands for Diis Manibus, "to the Spirits of the Dead"
The abbreviation D.M. at the top of this 3rd-century Christian tombstone stands for Diis Manibus, "to the Spirits of the Dead" | Source

Feralia and Pomona ~

During Feralia the ancient Romans celebrated the Manes, which are deities or souls of the underworld. Manes sometimes also represented departed loved ones, depending on the celebrating group of people. These deities were associated with Lares (guardian deities or heroic ancestors), Lemures (restless or malignant spirits), Genii (genius: the individual divine nature, soul, present in each person), and Di Penates (household deities who guarded food, wine, oil, etc.).

St Augustine (354 - 430 A.D.) wrote about Apuleius, author of The Golden Ass, City of God, Book IX, Chapter 11:

Apuleius says, indeed, that the souls of men are demons, and that men become Lares if they are good, Lemures or Larvae if they are bad, and Manes if it is uncertain whether they deserve well or ill.

— St. Augustine

Feralia is the time to give rest and peace to the departed, a commemoration for the passing of the dead. Feralia was on February 21, which marked the end of Parentalia, a festival of nine days for honoring dead ancestors. During Feralia, citizens took offerings to the tombs of their ancestors.

According to Ovid (43 BC – AD 17/18), a Roman poet, the offerings were to be "an arrangement of wreaths, a sprinkling of grain and a bit of salt, bread soaked in wine and violets scattered about."

The second celebration was Pomona, which was to honor the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. Interestingly, the symbol of Pomona was the apple. This very possibly could explain the tradition of "bobbing for apples" that became popular at Halloween parties of modern times.

When Christianity spread into Celtic lands, in the 800's, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 as All Saints Day. This was a day to honor all saints and martyrs. This was also referred to as All Hallows. The night before Samhain then became known as All Hallows Eve which eventually became Halloween.

In A.D. 1000, the church designated November 2 as All Souls Day, in honor of the dead and it was celebrated much as Samhain always was. The costumes then became saints, angels or devils. By combining all these celebrations, it became known as Hallowmas.

Apuleius ~

Frontispiece from Bohn's Libraries 1902 edition of The Works of Apuleius: a portrait of Apuleius flanked by Pamphile changing into an owl and the Golden Ass.
Frontispiece from Bohn's Libraries 1902 edition of The Works of Apuleius: a portrait of Apuleius flanked by Pamphile changing into an owl and the Golden Ass. | Source

Pumpkin carving ~

The carving of pumpkins into "jack-o-lanterns' is a popular American symbol of Halloween, but it originated in Europe. The "lantern" was originally carved from turnips or rutabagas.

The Celts used these lanterns to symbolize a head, the most powerful part of the body which contained the spirit and knowledge, to frighten off any evil or superstitions.

The name of jack-o-lantern perhaps comes from an old Irish legend of "Stingy Jack", who, after having tricked the devil was cursed to forever wander the earth with only a candle inside a turnip to light his way.

What is now considered traditional images of Halloween, monsters, witches, ghosts, ghouls, vampires, bats, owls, black cats, etc. has largely been brought on due to American filmmakers and their horror movies such as Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy.

The wonderful old Vincent Price movies did much to cement these symbolisms.

Jack o' Lantern ~

Modern Jack o Lantern
Modern Jack o Lantern | Source

Jack - o' - Lantern ~

A traditional Irish Jack-o'-Lantern in the Museum of Country Life, Ireland
A traditional Irish Jack-o'-Lantern in the Museum of Country Life, Ireland | Source

Happy Halloween ~

Have a freaky Halloween.
Have a freaky Halloween. | Source

Halloween night ~

How do you spend Halloween evening?

  • I take my kids trick-or-treating.
  • I stay home and pass out treats to kids who trick-or-treat.
  • I go trick-or-treating myself.
  • I ignore all trick-or-treaters and turn out the lights.
  • I dress in a scary costume and scare people.
  • I go to a costume party.
  • Other (please share in the comments section)
See results without voting

Trick-or-Treating ~

As for the "Trick-or-Treating" fun of Halloween, this tradition began in America in the early 20th century. How or why it did is debatable among many.

It is possible that the custom was brought forward from the approval of the church for "souling". This is when beggars were allowed to go around asking for food such as barley or oat cakes, in exchange for prayers. This was insurance that the beggars spirit would be allowed to enter heaven. "Soul Cake Day" is still popular in Ireland and Scotland. Soul cakes were traditionally set out with glasses of wine on All Hallows Eve, October 31, for the souls of the dead. This ancient custom may be the origin of "trick-or-treating".

Small, round soul cakes were given to the "soulers", children or the poor who went from door to door praying for the dead. Each cake eaten represented a soul freed from Purgatory.

"Soul Cake, soul cake, please good missus, a soul cake. An apple, a plum, a peach, or a cherry, anything good thing to make us merry. One for Peter, one for Paul, & three for Him who made us all."

- an old British children's song

~ ~ ~ ~

History of Halloween

Note from author ~

Thank you for reading my article. Your opinions are important to me and let me know your interests. This helps me to offer more of your favorite subjects to read about. Your time and interest are very much appreciated. I hope to hear from you in the comments section below.

I write on several different subjects, all evergreen articles. You can read more about me and see more articles I wrote by clicking on my name by the small picture of me at the top right of this page.

Blessings and may you always walk in peace and harmony, softly upon Mother Earth.

Phyllis Doyle Burns - Lantern Carrier, Spiritual Mentor
~ ~ ~ ~

© 2014 Phyllis Doyle Burns

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Comments 19 comments

Frank Atanacio 2 years ago

Thank you for sharing such a traditional holiday we share in this country.. I enjoyed the history, but no matter what It;s nice to see little ones dressing up and having a go at trying to be scary, funny, different... a great hub fitting for Halloween in what.... 35 more days? LOL as always voted awesome :)


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

My goodness you are fast, Frank. I had just barely published and signed off. to check my email before going to bed. What a delightful surprise to see your comment. I always get so excited when you write to my hubs because you always have something nice to say. Yep, about 35 days. Thank you for the awesome. :)


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Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Oh! I did reply, didn't I? Hello? Frank? Did you see my reply before I approved your reply? Thank you so much, my friend. Hugs !


Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

Very interesting and educational hub as always Phyllis. We have only started to take up celebrating Halloween recently in this country mainly due to tv and movies. It wasn't celebrated at all when I was a child or my children were small and I have never had anyone come trick or treating. Shop assistants dress up now as witches and such and stores sell costumes and props now so it is catching on. Voted up.


sheilamyers 2 years ago

I've heard some of the history on one of the documentaries aired on the History Channel. What do I do on Halloween? We don't get many kids coming to the door, so I don't hand out candy. I turn off all of the lights and watch whatever horror movies happen to be on TV. My favorites are the old black and white classics.


manatita44 profile image

manatita44 2 years ago from london

Beautifully written and a great history about Halloween as it's just around the corner. 'Hallowed' eh? makes sense. While it is our English tradition, I tend to prefer the Festival of Lights (Divali) as it's more meaningful in a spiritual sense. Lots of love to you, Phyllis.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi Jodah. Thank you so much. I am glad you found it interesting and educational. How interesting and exciting that your country is now celebrating the holiday. I would love to hear more about that and hope you write a hub on it. I never knew that about Australia and your country has always been of great interest to me. Over here, the trick-or- treating is not as busy as it used to be, at least in my area. We used to get close to 200 kids, now maybe 10 or so. Enjoy your new holiday. Take care.


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Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi Sheila. LOL you do the same as I do on Halloween night, turn out the lights and watch movies. I do love to decorate my porch with scarecrows, pumpkins and such around the 1st. It is such a colorful time of year with a different kind of warmth. Enjoy your movie night when it comes round. Thank, Sheila, for stopping by.


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Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Greetings, Manatita. Thank you for reading and commenting. I do not know much about Divali and would like to learn more. Thanks for mentioning that. I send you all the best and love.


Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

Hi Phyllis, we still don't get a Holliday for Halloween. We Are just riding on the back of a tradition from other countries because it's seen as "cool" or "sick" or whatever kids say today. My driveway is one kilometre long so that would detract any trick or treaters on less they were very determined.. :)


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Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

We don't actually get a holiday off work for Halloween, banks and everything stays open on that day. I always hesitate to admit it, but I do not like Halloween day because of all the people (adults) in costumes acting and looking silly. The little kids are cute and it is fun to see babies in costumes when they do not even know what is going on. I just kind of hunker down and stay inside. I do love to decorate for the season, though.


DDE profile image

DDE 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Interesting and such a competitive holiday.


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Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Thanks, Devika. I appreciate your visit and comment.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 2 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

HI Phyllis. Some of these traditions I am familiar with and some are new to me. Morem interest in Halloween started since I was a kid. In some ways I think it might have been more fun when the adults were less involved and the kids had a day of their own of it.


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Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

I tend to agree with you, dahoglund, that it was more fun when the parents stayed home. Of course, that was so many years ago when it was a lot safer for kids to be out in the evening. My siblings and I would stay out till about 9pm and had a great time. It is not very safe now for the kids to go without parents, unless the kids are older and in a group. Thanks for stopping by to read and comment, I appreciate it.


Imogen French profile image

Imogen French 2 years ago from Southwest England

Very interesting, especially the historical bit. As children we used to dress up as ghosts or witches and do apple bobbing - but it has certainly stepped up a gear or two since then.


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Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi Imogen. Thank you for stopping by to read and comment. I am glad it was interesting for you. We did apple bobbing, too, when my siblings and I were little. I can still recall what it was like to get water in my nose - it was fun, though. Thanks again.


Genna East profile image

Genna East 2 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

It’s always interesting and fun to learn more about the reasons surrounding the celebration and customs of our modern traditions. This article is a wealth of info, Phyllis. I was especially struck by the Soul Cake Day and how this may relate to trick-or-treating. I was surprised at the side-by-side comparison of the Irish Jack-o-Lantern and the more modern pumpin version. The history of the Halloween tradition was far more serious in the spiritual sense compared to the 21st century. Voted up and shared.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi Genna. Thank you for the comment, votes and share. I love to wander back in history and find connections to our traditions. The Soul Cake Day really impressed me, I think it was a nice tradition. It is still practiced in some parts of Ireland, I believe. Thanks again, Genna.

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