The History and Traditions of Halloween from Around the World

Did you know that Halloween is one of the oldest holidays in the world? It started during the pagan times in Ireland as “All Hallows Eve,” and the custom comes from the Celtic tradition of warding off evil spirits on the last day of the Celtic Calendar. As Halloween continues to grow in it’s global popularity, it will be interesting to see what new customs and traditions may arise!

The Halloween Traditions of Ireland

Like centuries ago, many rural areas across Ireland still light bonfires as the children get dressed up for an evening of trick or treating. Many attend neighborhood candy hunts and parties where traditional games such as “snap apple,” as well as “knock a dolly” are played. “Snap apple” involves hanging an apple from a string and having people walk up and try to take a bite without using their hands. “Knock a dolly” is usually performed by the neighborhood teenage pranksters when they knock on a door, and then run away before it is answered.

Snap-Apple Night, painted by Daniel Maclise in 1833, shows people feasting and playing divination games on Halloween in Ireland.

Parents and children enjoy baking traditional pastries with candy hidden inside, as well as “barnbrack.” “Barnbrack” is a type of fruitcake which has a special treat hidden inside that can foretell the eater’s future.

The Halloween Traditions of Canada

The traditions of Canada began in the 1800’s when the Irish and Scottish immigrants first arrived. Similar to the residents of United States, the Canadians carve Jack O’Lanterns and place other decorations around the home. They also like to have costume parties and send the kids around the neighborhood for tricks or treats.

People of all ages dressed up for this party on Halloween in 1890

The Halloween Traditions of England

The old traditions of England revolved around “punkies,” which are large beets that are carved into a design. The children would carry their “punkies” through the neighborhood, while singing the “Punkie Night Song,” and knock on neighbor’s doors for money.

In more recent years, England has adopted the Halloween traditions of the United States with their children dressing in costumes and going door to door for trick or treats on October 31st. However, this is a relatively new practice to the country, and many of the older generations have not caught onto the tradition. This means that they do not have the “treats” to give to the eager youth, which constitutes as a “trick” in many peoples’ book!

The Halloween Traditions of Europe

Two teenagers dress up for Halloween in Sweden

Halloween is regarded as an “American” holiday in Europe, and it wasn’t celebrated or even really known until the 1990s. The participants of Halloween in Europe enjoy going to costume parties at homes, bars, clubs, and restaurants. The practice of Trick or Treating, however, has not really caught on, but pumpkin carving is quite popular in some countries. Since Halloween is largely driven by commercial interests and influenced by American culture, many Europeans choose not to observe the holiday. It remains to be seen whether Halloween will continue to grow in popularity in Europe, or pass on like any other fad.