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Halloween Traditions and Their Origins

Most people know that the holidays that we celebrate as religious are steeped in ancient Celtic/Pagan roots. The same goes for Halloween which was originally known as the Samhain festival. Samhain is pronounced (sah-ween) and was a festival to celebrate the Celtic new year which begins on November 1st. It is a festival to celebrate the beginning of winter and for livestock to be brought in from the fields. The day before November 1st was thought to be when the land of the dead and the land of the living overlapped and the dead walked the earth causing sickness and crop destruction. So rather than get into the history too much I am going to write about how the day we celebrate as Halloween and its traditions have come about from the festival of Samhain.

Trick or Treat

This tradition, as you know, is when children come to your house dressed in costumes, ring your doorbell and say “Trick or Treat” in the hopes o getting some candy or other treat. If the homeowner does not give a treat, then a trick is played on him or his property. This comes from the part of the Samhain festival where masks and costumes were worn to appease the evil spirits and treats such as cakes and fruits were left outside to feed the evil forces and I nothing was left out, the evil forces invaded the homes or destroyed the farmer's crops.


During the Celtic festival, bonfires were lit in an attempt to keep the dead and the spirits away from the living and away from the crops and in turn, these fires drew insects such as mosquitoes and moths. These insects in turn drew bats to the bonfire which ate the insects.

Jack O'Lantern

There are many variations of this story and one of my favorites is that a ne'er-do-well named Jack had stolen things from the villagers. The villagers had chased Jack until he came face to face with the devil. The devil told him it was time for him to die and the devil would take his soul to hell. However Jack had tricked the devil by telling him that he could bedevil the souls of the Christian villagers that were chasing him. Jack told the devil to transform into a coin that he would use to pay the villagers for the stolen items. Believing that this was a good idea, the devil transformed into a coin and hopped into Jack's wallet. However, Jack also had a cross in his wallet and the devil was trapped in there by the cross as it took away his powers. Jack promised to free the devil only if he agreed never to take Jack's soul. The devil promised and Jack freed him.

Eventually, Jack died and although the devil could not take his soul to hell, Jack was too evil to go to Heaven. With nowhere for his soul to go, he was doomed to wander the earth forever and asked how he would be able to see to go anywhere. Mockingly, the devil tossed him a burning ember from the flames of hell, that would never burn out so Jack carved out a turnip and placed the ember inside and used it as a lantern. He would soon become to be known as Jack of the Lantern or Jack-o'-Lantern.

So there you have it. These are just some of the reasons why certain things and traditions have become associated with Halloween.

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