Dressing Up in Costumes
The tradition of dressing up in costumes has both Celtic and European roots. Winter was an uncertain and frightening time because food supplies often ran low and for those afraid of the dark, the short days were full of constant worry. It was believed that ghosts came back to Earth on Halloween and people thought they would encounter these spirits if they left their homes. To avoid being recognized as the living, people would where masks when they went out so that these ghosts would mistake them as fellow spirits. To keep ghosts away on Halloween, many people would place bowls of food outside their homes to appease the ghosts and prevent them from attempting to enter the home.
The tradition of trick-or-treating dates all the way back to the early All Soul's Day parades in England. During the festivities, poor citizens would beg for food and families would give them pastries called "soul cakes" in exchange for prayers for their dead relatives. The distribution of soul cakes was encouraged by the church to replace the ancient practice of leaving food and wine for roaming spirits. "Going a-souling" as the practice was called, was eventually taken up by children who would visit the neighboring houses and be given ale, food and money.
Every Halloween season, carved pumpkins peer out from porches and doorsteps. The practice of decorating Jack-O-Lanterns actually originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed "Stingy Jack." According to legend, Stingy Jack tricked the Devil into promising to leave him alone and not claim his soul is he were to die. When Jack eventually died, God would not allow such an unsavory figure into Heaven and the Devil kept his word about not claiming his soul. Jack was sent off into the dark with only a burning coal to light the way. According to the story, Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth ever since. In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own version of Jack's lantern by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes. They used the lanterns to frighten away Stingy Jack and other evil spirits. When immigrants brought the tradition to America, they found turnips were hard to come by and they began using pumpkins instead.
Bobbing for Apples
Once the Roman Empire conquered the majority of Celtic territory, two Roman festivals combined with the Celtic celebration of Samhain. One of these festivals was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. They symbol of Pamona is the apple and this festival probably led to the tradition of "bobbing" for apples. The game began as a British courting ritual with several different variations. In one set of rules, each apple was assigned to a potential mate and the bobber would attempt to bite into the apple named for the young man she desired. If it took just one try, they were destined for romance, but two tries meant their love would fade and three meant their love was doomed. Another set of rules stated it was a race to be the first to bite an apple and the first to emerge successful would be the first to marry. The game eventually declined in popularity, but at the end of the 1800s, Americans explored their immigrant roots and brought back the tradition as a game for both children and adults at Halloween parties.
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