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Wednesday, October 31 By: Emily Morris
Princesses, superheroes, ghosts, witches, and TV personalities are a common sight for today’s Halloween, but these traditions are far from the roots of the holiday. Centuries ago, Halloween was not the flash tradition it is today; Halloween originally encompassed Celtic and Christian customs and ideologies.
‘Halloween’ is a combination of two words: Hallowed and Een. Hallowed refers to holy spirits and even is just another word for eve so Halloween is essentially a alternative phase for the day before November 1st, which is All Saints Day. To Christians, All Saints Day is a holiday to celebrate devout Christians who have passed away (Business Insider).
In another twist, Celtic history portrays Halloween as the end of summer. This timeframe diminishes the separation between spirits and the living. Believers would then offer food and valuable items to the spirits to ensure they would not be bothered by any spirits (Business Insider)
Although these traditions are what made Halloween pop up in the first place, there are more idiosyncrasies around the day: bobbing for apples, carving pumpkins, and trick or treating. None of these activities have any obvious purpose in modern day Halloween festivities, other than it is what participants are accustomed to doing. I, for one, have enjoyed each of the trademarks of Halloween but have not put much more thought into it than a silly event.
Apples were once more noted as a symbol of youth and fertility as the fruit was not always a commonality. Fittingly, young people acquired tricks to use apples to determine the future of their love life; one of which was, you guessed it, bobbing for apples, according to National Public Radio. Young women in search of love would strategically mark one apple before bobbing, and whoever drew a marked apple would be destined to be with whoever marked it.
What else could be a more tell-tale sign of Halloween than a pumpkin, well perhaps a turnip. Drawn from a Celtic mythological story about making a deal with the Devil, a man, named Jack, tricked the Devil into a tree and then draw a cross on the tree leaving him stuck. The Devil made a conniving deal that if Jack let him down, he would not take his soul once her died (MSU News).
Jack agreed and proceeded to do bad deeds throughout his whole life assuming there would be no repercussions, but when he died his bad nature prevented him from going to heaven. The Devil scoffed at him being stuck in purgatory and threw coals at him. Jack or better known as Jack O’lantern wandered the Earth with a turnip lit by the Devil’s coal looking for an escape then (MSU News).
In arguably the most well-known Halloween tradition, Trick or Treating is actually a mash up of superstitious practices. These different practices eventually evolved into the light-hearted tradition we see.
Celtic people, as I mentioned, believed that the spirit world and living world are closer during Halloween. So some would take part in dressing similarly to spirits or ghosts to confuse the spirits. Then it was believed the spirits would not harm or notice them, according to The Smithsonian Magazine.
The English, on the other hand, wanted souls to return so participants would visit houses in search of a “soul cake” or treat to bribe the souls. Next it was common for the people to pray for the return of souls in exchange for the newly found cake, according to History Today.
The diverse history of Halloween now seems to only be a tribute to the diverse culture in America now. The holiday has evolved from meaningful rituals to a cultural exchange that everyone is invited to enjoy.