Our Halloween customs: Where are they from?

Published 11:16 pm Thursday, October 30, 2008

Have you ever wondered why people do what they do on Halloween? Many of our seasonal traditions mimic those practiced in ancient times.

Kids have costume contests and dress up while going trick-or-treating (or trunk-or-treating, whatever the case may be). This custom dates back to the Celtic Druids of northern Britain, who wore frightening costumes as one of several attempts to scare off evil spirits.

More than likely, you or someone you know has carved a pumpkin and placed a candle or light bulb inside. This imitates the Druid practice of lighting fires on the hills to ward off winter and the coming evil.

A few people bob for apples on Halloween. This game involves filling a tub with water and apples, then trying to grab the apples with one’s teeth and pull it out of the tub. Still, others throw an apple paring over their shoulder to see what initial it makes upon hitting the floor.

This fruity tradition go back to the Roman goddess of orchards, Pomona. It was also part of the pagan religious festival Samhain, another word for Halloween in some Gaelic languages.

The newer version, however, is more of a New Year’s tradition than a Halloween tradition. The first one to come up with an apple is said to be the first to marry. This is closely related to the practice of throwing rice at weddings, because people originally threw apples.

The cartoon-like witches and ghosts seen on decorations and advertisements this time of year date back to the sixth or seventh century. Halloween marks the beginning of Hallowtide, a season that includes the Feast of All Saints on Nov. 1 and the Feast of All Souls on Nov. 2. These rituals have connotations of the dead, witches, ghosts, devils and the like.

Many have come to oppose celebrating Halloween because of its pagan origins, but there are plenty of events that are good, clean fun for everyone.

For more information on local events, see the Community Calendar on page 3. Everyone is asked to have a safe Halloween.