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Halloween Traditions: Dumb Supper and More

Updated on February 29, 2020

What is better for the Halloween / Samhainn / All Hallow's Eve ambiance then collecting an amalgam of rituals to give reverence to the dead?

Here are a few ways to observe Halloween:

  • Silent/Dumb Supper. Hosting a silent/dumb supper involves fixing a plate of food and leaving it out on your dinner table specifically for the dead. In some regions, it is a requirement to set the table before midnight and be sitting, waiting for the dead to arrive. As legend states, if you sit in front of the plate very still, the dead will come and eat. When they leave, they will leave an item on your plate, which is a prediction of the type of fortune you will have in life. Me, I will stick to my fortune cookies, thanks.
  • Light a candle for the dead. In some cultures, the tradition regarding candles is that a candle is lit and set in a special saucer, or boat, and drifts in the water nearest their home as an offering to the Boatman of the river Styx. In other parts of the world, people place candles in their windowsills to light the way home for wandering spirits of their family gone past the veil.
  • Trick or Treating! This practice finds its roots in many different customs. Europe had many variations of our candy-giving practice, all of which centered on a core idea. The wealthy would congregate and hold lavish feasts in honor of the dead, and the poor would take up costumes of the dead (the Welsh called these costumed poor cenhadon) and went from house to house begging for food. England and other European countries found children performing these acts of begging, often times those who denied treats found themselves the recipients of property damage and other naughtiness.
  • Apple bobbing, biting, and the general inclusion of apples. When the Romans adopted Halloween as one of their own holidays, they dedicated it to a Goddess affiliated with the apple. As a result, many centuries later we have activities such as bobbing for apples, or apples being dangled from string, the object being to bite a chunk out of the apple, or to lift the apple from the water. If you achieved this goal, you are soon to be married, or so the story goes.

So, as we prepare to celebrate every dentist's favorite holiday, remember these little facts. Halloween is a night to remember those who have passed on, and to cherish the life we have. Oh, and to get candy!

Halloween around the world

Austria, China, England, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Latin America, and Spain all celebrate a form of the Dumb Supper, leaving food offerings in front of pictures, on kitchen tables, or in the tombs of those who have died.

In Germany, knives are stowed in safe places during the Halloween night, where they believe the souls of the dead may either harm or be harmed by the sharp objects in their visits that evening.

France did not celebrate or recognize Halloween until 1995 or so, and now celebrates the spirit of it in a sense by having yet another night of parties, costumed dances, and intense commercial overtaking of the holiday.

Technically, Japan and Korea celebrate their ancestors on days other than Halloween. In Korea, Chusok is celebrated in August, coinciding with the harvest. Japan celebrates their Halloween – called the Obon Festival around the same time frame.


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    • magicthe profile image


      10 years ago

      Any idea for good horror movies to watch for Halloween?

    • gamergirl profile imageAUTHOR

      Kiz Robinson 

      13 years ago from New Orleans, Louisiana

      Dumb supper has been popular in countries all across the globe for centuries. I'll be doing a dumb supper tonight. I hope the ghosts like skittles and chicken alfredo!

    • Angela Harris profile image

      Angela Harris 

      13 years ago from Around the USA

      I've done most of these. I had just heard of dumb supper yesterday. Is it catching on? I think I'll pass, though.

    • jim.sheng profile image

      Dalriada Books 

      13 years ago from UK

      Hi, I am Chinese, and don't know much about Halloween, but I always see pumpkins sold in supermarket before Halloween, what's that for originally? We used to eat pumpkin and that's delicious, but since I left china, no more pumpkin soup for 5 years, I can resist to buy a pumpkin to make soup, but it seems nobody eat pumpkins here so I never tried.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish MS 

      13 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      I like costume parties all around the year. There is a tradition in one scandinavian country in which in mid-February they get up at 3:00 AM one morning, parade in costumes and have a three-day party to liven up the winter. :)

    • gamergirl profile imageAUTHOR

      Kiz Robinson 

      13 years ago from New Orleans, Louisiana

      Thank you both for your comments.

      As it happens, one of my favorite holidays is Halloween. I typically dress up at least two nights during the weekend before Halloween, and also on the night itself. :) It's a fun time in my household.

    • Zsuzsy Bee profile image

      Zsuzsy Bee 

      13 years ago from Ontario/Canada

      Gamergirl! I couldn't have explained it better. The "Dumb Supper" and the "Lighting of Candles for our Dead" were always a tradition at my Grandmothers and my Moms house. Grandma always made an enormous sour-dough loaf of bread and left it on a cutting board with the bread knife, a bowl of butter and a salt and pepper shacker. The candles, one each for the closest relatives, were lit and were not allowed to be extinguished. They had to burn themselves down.

      I don't leave any food out (I don't mind visitors but that's a bit too spooky for me) However we do light candles, usually about 12, then spend a few minutes remembering and reflecting. It's a tradition that even my daughter practices at her home with my Granddaughters.

      Great Hub

      Zsuzsy Bee

    • profile image

      Patty Inglish 

      13 years ago

      Thanks for this post gamergirl!

      I heard the term "dumb supper" for the first time just the other day and wondered about it. It was used in an old science fiction/horror short story called "Who fears the devil?" that was read during a weekly literary gathering on our state campus. In the story, one character said the dumb supper was used to conjour a likeness of a young woman's future husband. The twist in the story was that the young woman who wused it and the future husband were both already dead - or half dead, as they put it.

      Thanks again; it makes more sense to me now!


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