1. CARVING HALLOWEEN JACK-O'-LANTERNS
Jack-O'-Lanterns, which originated in Ireland using turnips instead ofpumpkins, are supposedly based on a legend about a man named Stingy Jack whorepeatedly trapped the Devil and only let him go on the condition that Jackwould never go to Hell. When he died, however, Jack learned that Heaven didn'treally want his soul either, so he was condemned to wander the Earth as a ghostfor all eternity. The Devil gave Jack a lump of burning coal in a carved-outturnip to light his way. Eventually, locals began carving frightening faces intotheir own gourds to scare off evil spirits.
2. SEEING GHOSTS
Celtic people believed that during the festival Samhain, which marked thetransition to the new year at the end of the harvest and beginning of thewinter, spirits walked the Earth. Later, the introduction of All Souls Day onNovember 2 by Christian missionaries perpetuated the idea of a mingling betweenthe living and the dead around the same time of year.
3. WEARING SCARY COSTUMES
With all these ghosts wandering around the Earth during Samhain, the Celtshad to get creative to avoid being terrorized by evil spirits. To fake out theghosts, people would don disguises so they would be mistaken for spiritsthemselves and left alone.
4. GOING TRICK-OR-TREATING, THE PAGAN WAY
There is a lot of debate around the origins of trick-or-treating. Onetheory proposes that during Samhain, Celtic people would leave out food toplacate the souls and ghosts and spirits traveling the Earth that night.Eventually, people began dressing up as these otherworldly beings in exchangefor similar offerings of food and drink.
5. GOING TRICK-OR-TREATING, THE SCOTTISH WAY
Other researchers speculate that the candy bonanza stems from the Scottishpractice of guising, itself a secular version of souling. In the Middle Ages,soulers, usually children and poor adults, would go to local homes and collectfood or money in return for prayers said for the dead on All Souls' Day. Guisersditched the prayers in favor of non-religious performances like jokes, songs, orother "tricks".
6. GOING TRICK-OR-TREATING, THE AMERICAN WAY
Some sources argue that our modern trick-or-treating stems frombelsnickling, a tradition in German-American communities where children woulddress in costume and then call on their neighbors to see if the adults couldguess the identities of the disguised guests. In one version of the practice,the children were rewarded with food or other treats if no one could identifythem.
7. GETTING SPOOKED BY BLACK CATS
The association of black cats and spookiness actually dates all the wayback to the Middle Ages, when these dark kitties were considered a symbol of theDevil. It didn't help the felines' reputations when, centuries later, accusedwitches were often found to have cats, especially black ones, as companions.People started believing that the cats were a witch's "familiar"—animals thatgave them an assist with their dark magic—and the two have been linked eversince.
8. BOBBING FOR APPLES
This game traces its origins to a courting ritual that was part of a Romanfestival honoring Pomona, the goddess of agriculture and abundance. Multiplevariations existed, but the gist was that young men and women would be able toforetell their future relationships based on the game. When the Romans conqueredthe British Isles, the Pomona festival was blended with the similarly timedSamhain, a precursor to Halloween.
9. DECORATING WITH BLACK AND ORANGE
The classic Halloween colors can also trace their origins back to theCeltic festival Samhain. Black represented the "death" of summer while orange isemblematic of the autumn harvest season.
10. PLAYING PRANKS
As a phenomenon that often varies by region, the pre-Halloween tradition,also known as "Devil's Night", is credited with a different origin depending onwhom you ask. Some sources say that pranks were originally part of May Daycelebrations. But Samhain, and eventually All Souls Day, seem to have includedgood-natured mischief. When Scottish and Irish immigrants came to America, theybrought along the tradition of celebrating Mischief Night as part of Halloween,which was great for candy-fueled pranksters.
11. LIGHTING CANDLES AND BONFIRES
These days, candles are more likely than towering traditional bonfires, butfor much of the early history of Halloween, open flames were integral inlighting the way for souls seeking the afterlife.
12. EATING CANDY APPLES
People have been coating fruit in sugar syrups as a means of preservationfor centuries. Since the development of the Roman festival of Pomona, thegoddess often represented by and associated with apples, the fruit has had aplace in harvest celebrations. But the first mention of candy apples being givenout at Halloween didn't occur until the 1950s.
13. SPOTTING BATS
It's likely that bats were present at the earliest celebrations ofproto-Halloween, not just symbolically but literally. As part of Samhain, theCelts lit large bonfires, which attracted insects. The insects, in turn,attracted bats, which soon became associated with the festival. Medievalfolklore expanded upon the spooky connotation of bats with a number ofsuperstitions built around the idea that bats were the harbingers of death.
14. GORGING ON CANDY
The act of going door-to-door for handouts has long been a part ofHalloween celebrations. But until the middle of the 20th century, the "treats"kids received were not necessarily candy. Toys, coins, fruit, and nuts were justas likely to be given out. The rise in the popularity of trick-or-treating inthe 1950s inspired candy companies to make a marketing push with small,individually wrapped confections. People obliged out of convenience, but candydidn't dominate at the exclusion of all other treats until parents startedfearing anything unwrapped in the 1970s.
15. MUNCHING ON CANDY CORN
According to some stories, a candymaker at the Wunderlee Candy Company inPhiladelphia invented the revolutionary tri-color candy in the 1880s. The treatsdidn't become a widespread phenomenon until another company brought the candy tothe masses in 1898. At the time, candy corn was called Chicken Feed and sold inboxes with the slogan "Something worth crowing for." Originally just autumnalcandy because of corn's association with harvest time, candy corn becameHalloween-specific when trick-or-treating rose to prominence in the US in the1950s.
On October 31, hordes of children armed with Jack-o'-lantern-shaped bucketsand pillow cases will take to the streets in search of sugar. Trick-or-treatingfor candy is synonymous with Halloween, but the tradition had to go through acenturies-long evolution to arrive at the place it is today. So how did theholiday become an opportunity for kids to get free sweets? You can blame pagans,Catholics, and candy companies.
Historians agree that a Celtic autumn festival called Samhain was theprecursor to modern Halloween. Samhain was a time to celebrate the last harvestof the year and the approach of the winter season. It was also a festival forhonoring the dead. One way Celtics may have appeased the spirits they believedstill walked the Earth was by leaving treats on their doorsteps.
When Catholics infiltrated Ireland in the 1st century CE, they rebrandedmany pagan holidays to fit their religion. November 1 became the "feasts of AllSaints and All Souls," and the day before it was dubbed "All-Hallows'-Eve." Thenew holidays looked a lot different from the original Celtic festival, but manytraditions stuck around, including the practice of honoring the dead with food.The food of choice for Christians became "soul cakes," small pastries usuallybaked with expensive ingredients and spices like currants and saffron.
Instead of leaving them outside for passing ghosts, soul cakes weredistributed to beggars who went door-to-door promising to pray for souls of thedeceased in exchange for something to eat. Sometimes they wore costumes to honorthe saints—something pagans originally did to avoid being harassed by evilspirits. The ritual, known as souling, is believed to have planted the seeds formodern-day trick-or-treating.
Souling didn't survive the holiday's migration from Europe to the UnitedStates. In America, the first Halloween celebrations were a way to mark theend-of-year harvest season, and the food that was served mainly consisted ofhomemade seasonal treats like caramel apples and mixed nuts. There were no soulcakes—or candies, for that matter—to be found.
It wasn't until the 1950s that trick-or-treating gained popularity in theUS. Following the Great Depression and World War II, the suburbs were booming,and people were looking for excuses to have fun and get to know their neighbors.The old practice of souling was resurrected and made into an excuse for kids todress up in costumes and roam their neighborhoods. Common trick-or-treatofferings included nuts, coins, and homemade baked goods ("treats" that mostkids would turn their noses up at today).
That changed when the candy companies got their hands on the holiday. Theyhad already convinced consumers that they needed candy on Christmas and Easter,and they were looking for an equally lucrative opportunity to market candy inthe fall. The new practice of trick-or-treating was almost too good to be true.Manufacturers downsized candies into smaller, bite-sized packages and beganmarketing them as treats for Halloween. Adults were grateful to have aconvenient alternative to baking, kids loved the sweet treats, and the candycompanies made billions.
Today, it's hard to imagine Halloween without Skittles, chocolate bars, andthe perennial candy corn debates. But when you're digging through a bag or bowlof Halloween candy this October, remember that you could have been having eatingsoul cakes instead.