Halloween Traditions and Customs Throughout History

In the United States, Halloween is often seen as a time to dress up in costume and fill up on sweets. However, throughout history, Halloween has inspired a variety of customs and traditions across the globe.

* Costumes. The tradition of dressing up in costume is one that can be traced back to the beginning of the holiday. The Celts would celebrate Samhain by dressing up in elaborate animal skins and heads in an attempt to disguise themselves as spirits and demons. The reason for this was to protect themselves from real spirits and demons, the thought being the real spirits and demons would not recognize them as humans if they were in disguise.

* Bonfires. Druids from Northern Ireland would pacify their gods with ritualistic cermonies and sacrifices. One such ceremony included a Samhain bonfire on a nearby hilltop. The bones of slaughtered cattle would be thrown into these fires, which came to be called "bone fires," and later "bonfires." These bonfires and sacrifices were in the hopes that the sun would shine bright after a long winter. The tradition of bonfires on Halloween continues today throughout many parts of Ireland.

* Jack-o-Lanterns. The tradition of Jack-o-lanterns also originated with the Celts. Legend has it that a miserable man named Jack tricked the devil and was unable to enter heaven or hell upon his death. Instead, he was forced to listlessly roam the earth for eternity. In an effort to keep evil spirits away, Jack placed a piece of coal into a carved-out turnip, using it as a lantern on his travels. Jack-o-lanterns are still carved today, though more for decoration than to ward off evil spirits.

* Trick or treating. Trick or treating once had a very different meaning than it does today. On the night before All Hollow's Eve, the poor of Ireland would visit the wealthy and request gifts of food and money. The food was then gathered for a large celebration.