Origins Of Halloween & UK Traditions

Halloween is an ancient festival, which has its roots in the Celtic festival of Samhain (Sah-wen). This was when the Celts (the ancient inhabitants of Great Britain) celebrated their New Year and the day they believed that the souls of those who had died that year progressed to the underworld. It was said to be a night when ghosts, demons and witches roamed the earth, and people tried to placate them with offerings of nuts and berries.

Nowadays, you’re more likely (in most houses) to get chocolate or sweets than you are nuts, which has no doubt made the festival more child-friendly.

Today in the UK it is celebrated on All Hallows Eve, the night of October 31. The last night of October was originally the eve of Samhain.

Many of today’s Halloween traditions are associated with America, however they originated in Celtic history. For example the custom of ‘trick or treat’ originated in England as ‘Mischief Night’ when children declared one ‘lawless night’ of unpunished pranks (usually May Day Eve or Halloween). In the late 19th century, the Irish belief that ‘the little people’ or fairies played pranks on Halloween, led boys and young men to carry out practical jokes on that night.

Now, however, kids (big and small alike) yell, “trick or treat”, with the idea being that if treats in the form of sweets and the like are not supplied, the owners of the house will be tricked instead. In other words, extortion!

It was the Irish who brought the tradition of the Jack O’Lantern to America. The practice of carving Jack-o’-lanterns goes back to the Irish legend of Jack, a lazy but shrewd farmer who tricked the Devil into a tree, then refused to let the Devil down unless the Devil agreed to never let Jack into Hell . The story goes that the Devil agreed, but when Jack died, he was too sinful to be allowed into Heaven, and the Devil wouldn’t let him into Hell. So, Jack carved out one of his turnips, put a candle inside it, and began endlessly wandering the Earth for a resting place. He was known as Jack of the Lantern, or Jack-O’-Lantern.

Typical Jack O’Lantern’s are now pumpkins instead of turnips (and they probably taste better too).
Using a combination of different tools, it’s possible to create surprisingly realistic and detailed designs with them.
The use of pumpkins came from the Americas.

Halloween Superstitions:

Hazel nuts –

The hazel nut was sacred to ancient Celts, they were believed to have divining powers and were sacred to poets. The magic power of this nut was considered to be especially powerful on Halloween, and was often used in marriage divination’s.

Robert Burns wrote about this Halloween custom in Scotland: … “Some merry, friendly, countra folks, Together did convene, To burn their nuts, an’ pu their stocks, An’ haud their Halloween Fu’ blithe that night.”
The original poem by Burns is very long, but if you want the translation in modern English, and to read the whole poem, check it out here

Apple-bobbing –

Float a number of apples in a bowl of water (supposedly representing the Cauldron of rebirth), and try to catch one using only your teeth. When you have caught one, peel it in one unbroken strip, and throw the strip of peel over your left shoulder. The letter the peel forms is the initial of your future husband or wife.

Nut-cracking –

Place two nuts (such as conkers) on a fire. Give the nuts the names of two possible lovers and the one that cracks first will be the one.

(Anyone else seeing a recurring theme here?)

Halloween Costumes –

It’s traditional for people (especially children) to dress up at Halloween. In the past this wasn’t done just for fun, it was thought that the costume would confuse any evil spirits so they wouldn’t play any pranks on you.

How are you planning to celebrate Halloween?  We can help!

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