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Halloween Traditions and Customs

Updated on March 14, 2012

The celebration of Halloween, or All Hallows Eve as was called long ago, has a very special history all its own. The many Halloween customs set this celebration apart from many other special occasions. The origins of many Halloween traditions and customs are both very colorful and diverse. What we know about modern day Halloween festivities are rooted in the traditions from the original All Hallows Eve celebrations from long ago.

All Hallows Eve evolved from an even older tradition, the pagan festivial of Samhain. When Celtic immigrants began entering North America in large numbers during the 19th Century, they brought the tradition of Samhain with them, thus laying the groundwork for many of the Halloween customs that are still with us today. Samhain traditions included dressing up in animal costumes and going door to door in search of a feast. This of course was the precursor to what we now call trick-or-treating.

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The supernatural aspects of Halloween are strongly rooted in Halloween customs and traditions. The association of ghosts and other supernatural elements with Halloween are from beliefs of what happens in the supernatural world on the day set aside to honor those who have passed into the next life. Many people believed that All Hallows Eve was the one night when ghosts could contact the world of the living. To prevent ghosts from possessing a person's body on All Hallows Eve, they dressed in costumes to confuse the ghosts.

The origin of the name All Hallows Eve refers to the timing of Halloween, which is the day before All Hallows Day, which is also known as All Saints Day.Other names that Halloween is known by include Hallowe’en, which is a contraction of All Hallow En. Today, the celebration is referred to simply as Halloween.

The next time you are enjoying a Halloween party, haunted house, or candy obtained through trick-or-treating, remember that in continuing to observe the traditions of Halloween in the modern world, you are also paying tribute to Halloween traditions and customs of centuries past.

More Halloween Customs and Beliefs

  • Burning bonfires in honor of the harvest would guarantee successful crops the following year
  • For the Celts, a log from the harvest bonfire would be used to light the next fire in a home's hearth to protect them through the coming year
  • Carving pumpkins (turnips in years past) to ward off the darkness and evil spirits
  • Begging for "soul cakes", which later translated to beggars night and "trick or treat"
  • Fear of black cats because they were believed to be a witch's familiar
  • Early Halloween party traditions included divining the future using apple peels (throw one over your shoulder and it would land in the shape of your true love's initials) and looking for the face of a future husband by looking into a mirror at midnight
  • The winner of "bobbing for apples" would be the next person to marry
  • Avoid traveling by a crossroads at midnight on Halloween to avoid demons

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