Ever wonder how Halloween began and who started the eccentric practices which evolved into our celebrations today? Let's explore local and global customs and traditions that make Halloween what it is today -- and why it's so much fun.
In northern Ireland, it was customary for Druids to perform ritualistic ceremonies and make sacrifices to pacify their gods. The Celts would bring wood and start their Samhain bonfire or, fire festival, on the hilltop. Often, they would throw the bones of slaughtered cattle into the flames.
The word "bonfire" is said to be derived from such "bone fires." Bonfires and sacrifices guaranteed that the sun would burn brightly after a long, dreary winter. It's common to witness hundreds of traditional bonfires in Ireland every year on Halloween Night.
Halloween costumes originated from the Celts when they lit huge bonfires and celebrated Samhain by dressing up in elaborate animal skins and heads to disguise themselves as spirits and demons so that the real ones couldn't distinguish them as being human. Their ceremonies consisted of dancing, telling stories, and reading fortunes.
The traditions of carving jack 'o lanterns originates with the Celts. A miserable man named Jack, tricked the devil. Unable to enter heaven or hell after his death, he was destined to roam the earth listlessly. Jack placed a piece of coal into a carved-out turnip and used it as a lantern to keep the evil spirits away. Today, pumpkins (which are easier to cut) are carved into jack-o-lanterns, lit and placed outside of doorways for the same purpose.
The custom of trick or treating evolved in Ireland, centuries ago. In preparation for All Hollow's Eve, the the poor would call upon the rich folks and request money, gifts and food. The food was gathered for a huge feast and celebration.
A popular tradition in America, trick or treating for UNICEF began in 1950, when Philadelphia youngsters decorated milk cartons and collected money to help less fortunate children. UNICEF increases public awareness and raises funds to provide health care, nutrition, immunizations and clean water, around the world.