The modern-day rituals of donning masks, wearing costumes, and bobbing for apples can be traced back centuries to pre-Christian-era Celtic celebrations, says Fred Suppe, a history professor at Ball State University.
Fred Suppe, associate professor of history
He points out that a majority of Halloween traditions originated with the ancient Celts and their priests, the Druids. Other civilizations adopted and modified the Celtic rituals, such as bobbing for apples or donning disguises.
“The Celts can be traced back to 800 B.C., to what is now southern Germany and include the ancestors of the Scottish, Irish, Manx, Welsh, Cornish and Bretons,” said Suppe, an expert in Celtic folklore. “Particular motifs of modern-day Halloween — such as the date and time it is celebrated, children trick-or-treating, the jack-o’-lantern and bobbing for apples — are related to Celtic traditions.”
When Christianity was introduced to the Celts, church leaders tried to persuade them to abandon their pagan celebrations and adopt the Christian calendar. Because these traditions were culturally ingrained, the church provided alternative holy days such as All Saints’ Day on November 1.
“The evening before All Saints’ Day became ‘All Hallows' Day,’ then ‘Hallow's Eve,’ with the word ‘hallow’ meaning holy or saint and ‘eve’ meaning the night before,” Suppe explained. “Hallow’s Eve evolved to Halloween.”
Another origin for trick-or-treating comes from Scotland, where young men in their late teens donned disguises after the harvest.
"The Celts called them ‘guisers,’ which is where we get the word ‘geezer,’” he said. “The guisers would march around a house and demand hospitality, which evolved into small children asking for treats.”