Halloween: Halloween originated from a mixture of Celtic, Pagan, and Catholic traditions. The holiday is based off a Celtic festival called Samhain, a night when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. The Celts celebrated their New Year on Nov. 1 and believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of living and dead became blurred. This is where the belief that ghosts return to the earth on all hallow’s eve, the night before the new year, comes from. Some traditions that occurred every year on Halloween included dressing in animal skins, singing, dancing, and telling fortunes as well as ghost stories. In the Roman Catholic Church, All Saint’s Day — a day to recognize martyrs — was celebrated on Nov. 1, and All Soul’s Day — a day to honor the dead — was celebrated on Nov. 2. All Saint’s Day was also called Alholowmesse in Middle English, and the night or eve before gave Halloween it’s name.
Black Cats: Today, many believe that crossing paths with a black cat may bring them bad luck; however, that has not always been the case. Beginning in the Middle Ages, many people believed that witches disguised themselves as black cats so that they would not be seen. In America, people associated black cats with the Salem Witch Trials, as many believe that a black cat symbolized a hidden witch — the same belief as the middle ages. Today, there is about a 50 percent decreased chance of black cats being adopted because of this ancient myth.
Pumpkin Carving: The practice of carving jack-o-lanterns began as an Irish tradition. Originally, vegetables like potatoes and turnips were used for carving because they were popular in Ireland. Once the tradition became a part of Halloween in America, pumpkins were the vegetable of choice. The name jack-o-lanterns comes from a tale called “Stingy Jack,” where a man tricked the devil and was banished into the night with only coal to light his way. Because of this story, Irish people carved turnips with scary faces to ward off Stingy Jack and other evil spirits.
Trick or Treating: In the second half of the nineteenth century, millions of people from Ireland fled to America from the Irish Potato Famine and helped to popularize Halloween. The original tradition of Trick-or-Treating began when children and sometimes poor adults dressed in costume and went from house to house begging for food or money in exchange for songs or prayers. Often the beggars were called “soulers,” and the begging was called “souling.” Another name for Trick-or-Treating was “guising,” which comes from the word disguise. A common food passed out to the beggars were soul cakes, a small sweet cake made with nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and raisins.
Costumes: Based on Celtic tradition, people dressed up in costumes to ward off evil spirits on Halloween. As dressing up for the night became popular, people were inspired by the movies for their costume selections. Actors like Lon Chaney — known for his Wolf-Man character — and Bela Lugosi — who played the vampire Count Dracula, were early inspirations for creepy and scary dress. Other inspirations include monsters like Frankenstein and zombies. The first store-bought halloween costumes were not available until the 1930s.