Symbols and Traditions of Halloween

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Image Credit: Alexa_Fotos via Pixabay / Edited with Photoshop

There is no doubt that Halloween has become one of the most anticipated holidays across the globe. So much so that we start to see Halloween decorations--such as spiders and cobwebs-- in most stores every October. Not only that, but merchants also start to offer Halloween themed products, which include pumpkins, costumes, candies, and so much more. But, what exactly is the story behind each of these Holloween symbols and traditions that we grew up with?



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Wearing Holloween costumes is another fun activity that comes with the festivities. It is, however, interesting to learn that this practice has a dark history. 

Although historians agree to disagree on the origin of Halloween, it is widely believed that this popular holiday is linked to Samhain--an ancient Celtic festival that celebrates the summer's end. It is also believed that dead spirits would roam the earth during this time as it is the only night of the year when the boundaries between the world of the living and the dead were the blurriest. Consequently, the Celtic people would leave out peace offerings, such as food and drinks, to the spirits. They would also wear white clothes and paint their face to help camouflage them from these otherworldly beings. The Druids, Celtic priests, would also build bonfires and perform animal and plant sacrifices to the Celtic deities dressed as either animals or other supernatural beings.

Wearing of costumes can be traced as far back as the 9th century, but the merchants didn't start cashing in on this tradition until the 1920s.

Believe it or not, the multi-million dollar industry of manufacturing Halloween costumes has been around for less than 100 years, because corporations didn't actually start manufacturing Halloween costumes in the U.S. until the 1920s.




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Along with the fun of wearing costumes comes Trick-or-treating. Who doesn't like free candies, right? But, have you ever wondered how this tradition all started?  There are actually several theories about the origins of trick-or-treating. Some believe that it stems from Samhain, an old tradition of the Celtic people, where they would leave out food to placate the dead whose spirits are traveling the earth during that night. Eventually, these same people, in exchange for the same offerings of food and drink, started dressing up as one of these otherworldly beings.

Another theory involves the Scottish practice of guising where children, soulers, and poor adults would go to neighboring homes to offer prayers for the dead on All Soul's Day in exchange for money or food. Eventually, Guisers started to offer less religious performances like songs, jokes, and other "tricks". 

Other sources claim that the modern trick-or-treating is a product of a tradition practiced in German-American communities where the children would visit their neighbors while wearing costumes to see if the adults could guess who they are. Some versions of this practice mention rewarding the children if the adults cannot guess their identity.


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While the three theories mentioned above are all plausible, the simplest theory about the origin of trick-or-treating dates back from the 1950s. This is the time when mischief-making was rampant during All Hallows' Eve. So the elders and town leaders came up with activities to dissuade the youngsters from causing trouble. One of the activities includes the distribution of sweet treats. 

Here's a video from Babyteeth More enumerating the 50 types of trick-or-treat givers during Halloween. Whoa! I didn't know there were that many.

Video Credit: Babyteeth More via Youtube 



Image Credit: jill111 via Pixabay

One of the most notable things that indicate it's already time for Halloween are the carved pumpkins with scary faces and illuminated with candles found on the porches or doorsteps in the US and some other parts of the world. This activity of decorating jack-o-lanterns is a practice that originated in Ireland. 

Did you know? The original jack-o'-lanterns were carved from turnips, potatoes or beets.


This is because pumpkin didn't exist in Ireland. That's why the Irish used to carve turnips, potatoes, or beets. When the Irish immigrants came to America, they found out that it's much easier to carve pumpkins--and so the pumpkin carving tradition soon became popular and became an integral part of the Halloween celebration. Now that we've got that covered--do you know the story behind the jack-o-lantern?


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Legend has it that this practice originated from an Irish myth about "Stingy Jack". Stingy Jack is an unsavory fellow who likes to drink and play tricks on everyone. He has complete disregard of everyone that he would even dare play a trick on the devil himself. As the story goes, he invited the devil for a drink but didn't want to pay for it. So, he somehow convinced the devil to turn himself into a coin which Jack will use to pay for his drink. But as soon as the devil turned into a coin, Jack kept the coin in his pocket together with a silver cross--which prevented the devil from turning back to his original form. Jack and the devil struck a bargain. Jack will let the devil go as long as he promises not to bother Jack for a whole year, as well as not claim his soul should he die. The next year, Jack tricked the devil again. He made the devil climb a tree to pick a piece of fruit. As soon as the devil is up the tree, Jack carved a cross on the bark of the tree. Of course, the devil is trapped. Again, Jack made him promise not to bother him for another 10 years. Boy! That devil sure is gullible.


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When he died, God wouldn't allow a drunkard and a trickster like him in heaven, so Jack turned to his old pal the devil--but the devil also would not allow him to hell. He did promise not to claim Jack's soul and he was just keeping his word. Okay, so may he's still a little miffed with all the tricks Jack played on him. Wouldn't you be? So, Jack was condemned to wander the Earth as a ghost forever. The devil may have felt a little bad for him so he gifted Jack with a burning coal to light his way in the dark night--to which Jack placed in a carved out turnip. And so, he has been roaming the Earth aimlessly since then. The Irish refers to him as "Jack of the Lantern" but soon became "Jack O'Lantern". 

Other Halloween Symbols

Other popular Halloween symbols include the following:

  • Bats
  • Witches and black cats
  • Spiders and cobwebs
  • Ghosts
  • Skeletons

How about you? What part of Halloween is your favorite? Let me know in the comments section below.



Thanks for reading! Have a wonderful day ahead of you and keep smiling. :)

Written by Chineyes for bitLanders

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About the author


A software tester by profession, a mother by heart, and a writer by passion.

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