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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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