Tricks and Treats: Unmasking the Traditions of Halloween

College students may think they’re too old to trick or treat seeing it as an event buried in their past. But not all college students think this way.

“I still like Halloween even though I don’t go trick or treating. So I guess it’s not as exciting, but it’s still fun,” says San Jacinto College student Tierney Leopard.

On the other hand, some individuals, too old for trick-or-treating, take up scaring trick-or-treaters as evidenced by San Jac student Austin Janak.

“Halloween is definitely more fun now that I am old enough to be doing the scaring,” Janak says.

Halloween, through the passing of many years, transformed from an ancient pagan ritual into a modern holiday full of costumes and treats.

The day known today as Halloween dates back to the time of the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain. Samhain was a festival marking the end of the harvest season. This was a time of year when pagans took inventory of their supplies, stocked up, and prepared for the winter.

Furthermore, Samhain was also a time when boundaries of the worlds between the living and the dead were one and the same. The dead had, and exercised, the power to come back to life.

Jack Santino’s article “The Fantasy and Folklore of All Hallows” from the American Folklore Center says, “People gathered to sacrifice animals, fruits, and vegetables. They also lit bonfires in honor of the dead, to aid them on their journey, and to keep them away from the living.”

Santino goes on to say, “Samhain became the Halloween we are familiar with; when Christian missionaries attempted to change the religious practices of the Celtic people.”

Since then, Halloween evolved into a day when celebrators go to costume parties, take their kids around the neighborhood for candy, or play tricks on unsuspecting victims.

Although Halloween is something entirely different today, it does hold onto a few of the traditions from the original pagan holiday.

Trick-or-treating was born out of a practice from the Middle Ages called souling. Now, Children go from house to house exclaiming the phrase “trick or treat!” If they are appeased, they get a treat. If they don’t, they carry out the trick portion.

Moreover, dressing up in costumes is another continued tradition rooted in a past practice.

“The wearing of costumes, for instance,” Santino says, “and roaming from door to door demanding treats can be traced to the Celtic period and the first few centuries of the Christian era when it was thought that the souls of the dead were out and around, along with fairies, witches, and demons.”

However, in addition to continuing old practices, some contemporary celebrators follow newer rituals. Viewing scary movies is now a part of the fabric of today’s version of Halloween.

“(Our) traditions were making the house spooky,” Leopard says, “and at least watching one scary movie.”