Halloween Tradition – Origin & Symbolism

halloween traditionThe name Halloween is believed to have originated in the mid 1500’s with influences from a Scottish term that translates into AllHallowsEve, or the night before AllSaintsDay. The origin of the holiday we now know as Halloween is still unknown, but is commonly believed that the holiday shares the same birthplace as Samhain. Samhain is a Celtic festival which is held from October 31st – November 1st and has a translation meaning “summers end”.

Samhain is the celebration of the end of harvest season and is thought by some to be the beginning of the Celtic New Year. Superstitions surrounding the death of plants and animals that die in the autumn season, led the Gaels (A Gaelic-speaking Celt of Scotland, Ireland) to believe that the world of the dead and the world of the living were crossing paths. Rituals began to form which consisted of the cleansing of oneself and livestock by walking between two bonfires. A similar tradition we have today that the Gaels founded is the wearing of masks and costumes. The Gaels believe that if one would represent an evil spirit it would deter the spirit from bringing them harm.

Halloween traditions that we have today include Trick-or-Treating which is the act of going from door to door, dressed in costume, expecting to be handed treats from celebrating townspeople. This tradition can be traced back to the middle ages from a practice known as “souling”. “Souling” is the process whereby children and the poor go door to door around town singing and saying prayers with the intention of receiving a Soul Cake. Soul cakes consist of spices and are usually marked with a religious symbol. Soul Cake can be considered the original Halloween treat and was delicious. It also has a great name – reminiscent of a cake that James Brown may eat.
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A symbol of the Halloween tradition is the Jack-O-Lantern which is seen commonly today in which a pumpkin is selected and then carved to create a more intricate display. The Jack-O-Lantern dates back to Celtic celebrations, but instead of a pumpkin, a turnip was carved and placed strategically in one’s home to ward off any evil spirits from entering. Although with many interpretations and beliefs surrounding this interesting holiday, Halloween is widely celebrated by many cultures and has lasted the test of time. Weather the suspicions and imagery surrounding Halloween frighten you or electrify your curiosities, the way to celebrate is in your hands.