Origins of Halloween Traditions: Part 1

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Now we get to look at some really fun stuff! Like most people, I tend to take certain things for granted without actually considering what started it all. In regards to Halloween, why do we wear masks? Why do we bob for apples? And who thought up carving pumpkins? Let’s find out!

In a previous article by this author, we discussed that during Allhallowtide, some Christians believed that the veil between the dead and the living was its thinnest on All Hallow’s Eve, held on October 31st. To prevent spirits from recognizing them, some people would wear masks to fool the spirits. Kirk Cameron has stated that, “Early on, Christians would dress up in costumes as the devil, ghosts, goblins and witches precisely to make the point that those things were defeated and overthrown by the resurrected Jesus Christ”.

Apparently the tradition of mask-wearing began in an effort to fool spirits and mock spiritually defeated beings. Of course, as with anything, just because a tradition began for a particular reason doesn’t mean that the meaning is remembered later–or that the tradition won’t evolve. Now we don’t just wear masks–we wear full-on costumes. We have costume contests and parties and kids get a chance to dress up as their favorite cartoon character. We even get our pets in on the action.

What about bobbing for apples? Can you believe that it started in Britain as a romantic courting ritual? Like any game, there are some variations but the one we’ll learn about today is simple enough: each apple would have the name of a potential suitor on it. A hopeful female would bob for the apple of the beau she wanted to court her. If she made it on the first try, it was a match made in Heaven. A second try leaned more towards a Spring Fling. Three or more tries foretold a doomed romance. Superstitious much? Still, I bet it was fun watching otherwise well-mannered young women bobbing for apples in hopes of a romance!

As for carving pumpkins, you might say that it has two origins: one stemming from a Samhain tradition and the other with a relatively recent birth around the 18th century. First, as part of the Samhain celebration, Celts would carry embers in hallowed out turnips. Not a pumpkin exactly, but one can see where some believe the tradition began here. The more recent source of pumpkin carving possibly originates from the story of “Stingy Jack“– a man who tricked and trapped the devil using symbols of the cross. Because of his trickery, he was not welcome in Heaven, yet the devil had promised not to take his soul if Jack would set him free. Doomed to roam in limbo, the devil gave jack an ember or coal to light his way through the darkness, which Jack put into a turnip. The Irish and Scottish people now carve pumpkins with scary faces to ward off Stingy Jack and other Halloween spirits.

It’s fun learning this, isn’t it?

Writer Bio

CJ Heath is having lots of fun researching the origins of some of our favorite Halloween traditions. We certainly have to find out about trick-or-treating in our next segment!




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