Some traditional Halloween customs associated with Halloween include going trick-or-treating in spooky costumes, pumpkin carving, and going door to door for candy. Samhain is a Gaelic term that is pronounced: “SAH-win.” It was a pagan religious celebration to welcome the harvest at the end of summer when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. Halloween has its origins in the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. Pope Gregory III, who reigned in the seventh century, established the first of November as a day to celebrate saints. Not long after that, several of the customs associated with Samhain were incorporated into the celebration of All Saints Day. All Hallows Eve was the name given to the evening preceding All Saints Day; it was ultimately shortened to Halloween.

Here is a look into the background of some of the most well-known Halloween customs that are being practiced today.

Carving pumpkins into Jack-o’-lanterns

Jack-o’-lanterns were traditionally carved out of turnips rather than pumpkins in Ireland, where the custom first began. It is said that it is based on a tale about a guy called Stingy Jack who is credited with capturing the Devil on several occasions and only releasing him with the stipulation that Jack would never have to suffer in hell. But once he passed away, Jack found out that Heaven did not want his soul either, so he was condemned to spend eternity as a ghost chasing after people on earth. Jack was provided with a source of illumination by the Devil in the form of a glowing lump of coal housed inside a turnip that had been hollowed out. At some point in time, locals started carving terrifying faces into their own turnips in an effort to ward off bad spirits.

Dressing up in Spooky Costumes

The Celts would dress up in disguises at Samhain so that they would not be mistaken for the bad spirits who were said to be roaming the earth at that time. This would allow them to avoid being harassed by the spirits and allow them to celebrate the holiday in peace.

Going Trick-or-Treating

There is a lot of discussion over where trick-or-treating first started, but generally speaking, there are three different hypotheses. The first hypothesis proposes that in order to satisfy the spirits that were wandering the Earth at night, Celtic people would put food out during the holiday of Samhain. People then started dressing up like these otherworldly entities in return for similar donations of food and drink throughout the course of time.

Another idea postulates that the candy boom may have its origins in the Scottish custom of guising, which may be seen as a more secularized form of “souling.” On All Souls Day, throughout the Middle Ages, it was common practice for children and destitute adults to go door-to-door in their communities in exchange for food and money from those who were willing to pray for them. Prayers were replaced with non-religious pastimes such as singing, telling jokes, and other “tricks,” and the Guisers did away with the practice altogether.

Halloween Black Cats

The concept that black cats are terrifying originates from the Middle Ages when people believed that these dark felines were a representation of the devil. Since then, people have held the belief that black cats are terrifying. The fact that decades later, convicted witches were often discovered to have cats, especially black ones, did not help matters. People started believing that the cats were “familiars” of witches, who are otherworldly creatures that help witches in their practice of dark magic; ever since then, black cats have been associated with spooky things because of this belief.

Halloween Colors are Black and Orange.

Black and orange, the traditional colors of Halloween, have their origins in Samhain, a holiday that was celebrated in Celtic countries. Orange was the color that signified the harvest season in fall to the Celts. Orange is representative of the fire that burns during the festival of Samhain whereas black was thought to represent the “death” of summer and the dark months that come with winter.

The Snap Apple

In Ireland, apple bobbing is more commonly known as “snap apple.” This variation of the game typically sees players lunging teeth-first at apples suspended from strings rather than having them thrashing around in buckets of water. 

In his book Collectanea de Rebus Hibernicis, written in the 18th century, British military surveyor Charles Vallancey, who was stationed in Ireland at the time, discusses the game. He notes that young people who were not yet married would compete to see who would be the next to be married. The person who is the first to bite into a hanging apple will be able to stroll down the center aisle before anybody else. Bobbing for apples originated as a courtship ritual — a game for divining the future romantic entanglements of the players.