Each year hoards of crazed children dressed in costumes converge on innocent neighborhoods and knock on doors to get free candy or other goodies before going on to the next door to repeat the process. So just how did this tradition get started?
This tradition can be traced back more than 2,000 years to the Celtic belief that the spirits of the dead still remained present on our plane of existence, and required food and drink to be placated. Failing to leave out an offering was sure to invite the disgruntled spirits to cause mischief and ill fortune in retaliation. Later, people began dressing up as the spirits in order to receive these offerings of food, and playing practical jokes on those who did not furnish them.
In Ireland, there was a practice among the peasants of going door to door to collect money or food in preparation for the festival of St. Columbus Kill.
In England, the poor would go around to different households on All Souls Day (November 1) begging for food. They would be given "soul cakes" in exchange for the promise to pray for the family's dead relatives. This practice was known as "going a-souling".
In Scotland children, or guisers, would have to impress the occupants of the houses they visit with a song, trick, joke or dance in order to earn their treats.
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Not too surprisingly, there are a lot of superstitions concerning Halloween:
- When you ring a bell on Halloween, it will cause evil spirits to fly away.
- The old Celtic custom was to light great bonfires on Halloween, and after these had burned out to make a circle of the ashes of each fire. Within this circle, and near the circumference, each member of the various families that had helped to make a fire would place a pebble. If, on the next day, any stone was displaced, or had been damaged, it was considered to be an indication that the one to whom the stone belonged would die within twelve months.
- If a bat flies into your house, beware! You may have some ghosts or spirits visiting.
- On Halloween night, if you see a bat flitting around early in the evening, then you'll have good weather the next day.
- If bats fly around your house on Halloween night 3 times, death is inevitable.
- If you hear footsteps trailing close behind you on Halloween night, do not to turn around to see who it is, for it may be Death himself. To look Death in the eye, according to ancient folklore, is a sure way to hasten your own demise.
- To cast a headless shadow or no shadow at all is still believed by many to be an omen of death in the course of the next year.
- A person born on Halloween can both see and talk to spirits.
- If you happen to see a spider on Halloween then the spirit of a loved one is watching over you.
- It was once believed that on Halloween, owls would dive down and eat the souls of anyone dying that night.
- People at one time believed that Satan was a nut-gatherer, so, on Halloween night, nuts were used as magic charms.
- A burning candle inside a jack-o-lantern keeps evil spirits and demons at bay.
- If a candle suddenly goes out by itself on Halloween, as though by breath or wind, it is believed that a ghost has come to call.
- Always burn new candles on Halloween to ensure the best of luck. It is not a good idea to burn Halloween candles at any other time of the year. It may bring bad luck or strange things will happen to you, over which you will have no control.
- Gazing into a flame of a candle on Halloween night will enable you to peer into the future.
- If a person lights a new orange colored candle at midnight on Halloween and lets it burn until sunrise, he or she will be the recipient of good luck.
- Girls who carry a lamp to a spring of water on this night can see their future husband in the reflection.