The History Of Halloween Traditions In The UK
Hubble, Bubble, Toil & Trouble… Something Spooky This Way Comes.
Whether you like a fright, you’re into the ghoulish or you just like a bit of Food History, this missive is for you as we approach our spookiest Holiday: Halloween.
Have you ever thought to yourself - where the bally hell do our Halloween Traditions come from?
Well. The Rococo Scribblers have been at work, and they are ready to divulge the secrets of All Hallows Eve.
When Is Halloween?
Pull out your diaries, friends! Halloween is on Monday 31st of October 2022. To hell with the working week, why not sample our Halloween Treats and gift yourself a spooky delight?
A Quick History of Halloween
Let’s get historical!
Samhain, The Feast Of The Dead, All Hallows Eve, Halloween, Fright Night: Whatever you call it… all these names hark back to an ancient Celtic festival where the spiritual believed that the boundaries between life and death blurred, and the dead returned to earth.
2000 years ago, Halloween was called Samhain. It was a festival that marked the changing seasons, New Year and communing with the Dead. Druids lit sacred bonfires and Celtic communities would gather to burn crops, sacrifice animals and predict the future. All the while wearing animal heads and fur pelts to disguise themselves from evil spirits.
Throughout the centuries, rulers and religions re-shaped Samhain.
From the 1st century, the Romans celebrated Feralia, Parentalia & Pomona. On Feralia & Parentalia, people made offerings to the dead in the hopes of persuading their ancestors not to haunt them, and picnicked at their family’s graveside. While in the Autumn, people worshipped Pomona, the Goddess of Abundance, with offerings of apples and nuts to give thanks for a good harvest. Some sources claim that this is where Apple Bobbing comes from!
In comes Christianity! Between the 7th and 9th centuries, Samhain changed again. It became All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day. The faithful held an all night vigil of prayer and fasting, and celebrated All Saints Day with bonfires and Souling (an early version of Trick Or Treating, which we’ll get to later). Some sources suggest that during early iterations of this festival, people dressed as Saints, Angels and Devils to celebrate the Saintly and honour the dead.
Eventually, the Halloween we all know and love came together. Inspired by these ancient rituals and imbued with our love of all things sweet, magical and America’s Pumpkin Obsession.
Halloween Food History
Food has always been at the heart of Halloween. For centuries, people believed it had the power to predict love, bring goodwill and protect from evil spirits. Now, we’ll take a look at some of the UK’s Halloween Traditions.
Borne out of the Roman Festival of Pomona, the Goddess of Abundance. Across Roman and Celtic Eras, right through to the 19th century, people believed that apples had the power to predict love. Young women would name each apple after a potential beau, bob for apples and learn the identity of their future partner.
Trick Or Treating
Mumming. Guising. Souling. Just some of the names bestowed on the ancient custom. Souling is probably the earliest form of Trick Or Treating. In 1000, A.D., people in poverty would visit wealthy households and ask for Soul Cakes (a small, spiced, fruit cake), in exchange for a song and a promise to pray for the dead.
Up until the 19th century, the fearful carved turnips and placed them near doorways to ward off evil spirits during the witching hour. This tradition is basked on the Irish Myth: Stingy Jack. According to this Irish Folktale, Jack tricked the Devil one too many times and upon his death, Jack was doomed to room the earth armed only with a lit coal inside a carved turnip. Thus the Jack O’Lantern tradition was born!
A lesser known Scottish Halloween Tradition. An engaged couple would each place a Hazelnut or Conker on the fire. If the nut burned quietly, the marriage would be peaceful. If the nut spat or burst, the marriage would be turbulent. OR if a young woman placed two nuts on the fire, one for her and one for her beau, hissing nuts would suggest their romantic future was doomed.
You’ve journeyed with us on a little jaunt through Food History, and with Halloween fast approaching - what foodie traditions will you be partaking in? Why not stock up on Trick Or Treat Gifts? Or create your own Halloween Tradition with our bestselling Smashing Of Pumpkins!
Want to learn more?
Here are the sources we used to write this blog: History UK & English Heritage.