Halloween traditions date back centuries

Fred Suppe

Many Halloween traditions may have originated with theancient Celts and their priests, the druids. Other civilizations adopted and changed the ancient rituals, such as bobbing for apples or donning disguises.

“Our Halloween celebrations are the remnants of the pre-Christian Celtic celebrations,” said Fred Suppe, a Ball State history professor and an expert in Celtic folklore.

“The Celts can be traced back to 800 B.C. to what is now southern Germany and include the ancestors of the Scottish, Irish, Manx, Welsh, Cornish and Bretons. Particular motifs of modern-day Halloween such as the date and time it is celebrated, children trick-or-treating, the jack-o-lantern and bobbing for apples are related to Celtic traditions.”

Fred Suppe

When Christianity was introduced to the Celts, church leaders tried to persuade them to abandon their pagan celebrations and adopt the Christian calendar. Because these traditions were culturally ingrained, the church provided alternative holy days such as All Saints’ Day on Nov. 1.

“The evening before All Saints’ Day became ‘All Hallows’ Day,’ then ‘Hallow’s Eve,’ with the word ‘hallow’ meaning holy or saint and’eve’ meaning the night before,” Suppe says. “Hallow’s Eve evolved to Halloween.”

Another origin for trick-or-treating comes from Scotland, where young men in their late teens donned disguises after the harvest.

“The Celts called them ‘guisers,’ which is where we get the word ‘geezer,'” he said, “The guisers would march around a house and demand hospitality, which evolved into small children asking for treats.”


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