Candles and bonfires
Nowadays people keep a vigil for the dead by lighting a candle in their homes and often putting it on the window. In Ireland and Scotland there was a custom coming from pagan times to extinguish the fire in the fireplaces and switch off the lights on the Hallows’ Eve, to make the houses unattractive for wondering spirits. Afterwards the fire was relit by taking a flame from the big festival bonfire.
In some parts of modern Scotland young people celebrate this night by building bonfires on hilltops, and then dancing around the flames. Such a fire is called “Hallowe'en bleeze”, and once there was a custom of digging a circular trench around it, symbolizing the sun.
According to the Celtic Samhain traditions, the bonfire was used as a symbol of eternal renovation, and people threw into it all their failures, fears and faults, and the flames took away all the shadows of the previous year. Sometimes they wrote on pieces of wood or paper their wishes for the following year and threw it into the bonfire to be revived in future.
Jack-o'-lanterns, or Halloween pumpkins, are the most celebrated Halloween decorations nowadays. Its origin lays in Irish tales about a blacksmith called Jack (or Will, in the earlier versions, giving the name to a faery creature Will-o’-the-wisp).
According to the tale, after death Jack was excluded both from Paradise and from Hell because of his bad ways of living. The devil gave him a piece of coal from the flames of Hell to light his way through the darkness. Jack placed the coal in a hollowed-out turnip to keep it glowing longer. From then on each Halloween night Jack wanders about in the darkness with his lantern, playing evil tricks on the passers-by.
The Celtic tribes used carved turnips with a candle inside to frighten evil spirits, such lanterns were placed in the houses, at the windows and were taken when someone needed to go out in the haunted night. Coming to America, the Irish discovered pumpkins, and started to use them instead of the turnips. The new tradition of Halloween pumpkin little by little spread all around, losing its original meaning.
With Christianity Jack became a symbol of the damned souls, and the pumpkin lantern was considered the way of commemoration of all damned souls, by other sources – of all souls in Purgatory.
Picture:"Traditional Irish halloween Jack-o'-lantern" by the user rannṗáirtí anaiṫnid (coṁrá); transferred to Commons by User:Podzemnik. Original text : I (rannṗáirtí anaiṫnid (coṁrá)) created this work entirely by myself.). Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Costumes and masks
In ancient time the traditions of dressing and masquerade were associated with the spirits of dead and pagan deities. People dressed in costumes to symbolize spirits and covered their faces with masks, to protect themselves and their houses from the evil creatures.
Picture: Trick-or-treat in Denmark, author unknown. Photo from Lars Møller, “Da vi var børn Bind”, 1925-1940 (Københavns Bogforlag 1987) from Det Kongelige BiblioteksBilledsamling. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Boern_rasleboesse_193x_kgl_bib_billedsamling.jpg
Halloween dressing today is very popular, especially among children and teenagers. Traditional costumes represent witches, ghosts, the devil, zombies, vampires and other supernatural beings. With the spread of horror movies costumes of their most scary characters became spread as well. In many countries usual Halloween traditions are costume parties, parades and street carnivals.
Trick or treat
“If you are going to give us anything, give it us soon,
Or we'll be away by the light of the moon.
(verses from the traditional Hop-tu-Naa Song, spread in the Isle of man for the feast of October, 31; citated from http://www.isle-of-man.com/manxnotebook/fulltext/mb1896/p068.htm)
Also the tradition of going from house to house for trick-or-treating has Celtic origin. This activity was performed by adults and accompanied by the seasonal songs, and as treats people offered food and drinks to the visitors. The dressed ones created a lot of mischief, playing jokes like slamming the doors, tormenting animals. In some countries this tradition of practical jokes is maintained nowadays, and the night is also called “Night of mischief”.
In the 9th century the similar custom was connected with All Souls’ Day in Europe, and was called souling. Christians would walk from village to village asking for "soul cakes”, squared pieces of bread with currants. The more soul cakes the family would give, the more prayers for its dead relatives these beggars would say.
Today the tradition is mainly spread among the children, who dress themselves as spirits and monsters and in small companies make their trick-or-treat trips. They cry to the owners of the houses “Trick or treat!”, suggesting that some jokes will be played unless treats are provided. The treats are usually small coins, apples, nuts and different kinds of sweets.
Picture: Trick or treat in Sweden. Author: ToyahAnette B. Source: By ToyahAnette B (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATrick_or_treat_in_sweden.jpeg