Halloween traditions traced back centuries to Celts, Ball State University professor says

Posted at 12:45 PM, Oct 30, 2020

MUNCIE — Some modern-day Halloween traditions can be traced back centuries to the Celts, an associate history professor at Ball State University says.

Frederick Suppe says traditions like wearing masks and costumes, the name of the holiday, Jack-o'-lanterns, trick-or-treating, and bopping for apples can be traced back to Celtic celebrations during pre-Christian times.

Trick-or-treating and wearing costumes can be traced back to the ancient Celts believing there were many spirits.

"The idea is on October the 31st, you should have your harvest inside because otherwise, it's going to spoil," Suppe said. "The belief is have your harvest inside. There are all kinds of dark spirits that have been kept away by the bright, long, sunny summer days. Well now the dark spirits can come back, so be inside, offer token, nice bits of your harvest to the spirits out there so they will be pleased so they won't cause the loved one problems."

Bopping for apples was a way for younger people to figure out who was going to get married to who, Suppe said. There were variations of this tradition in different countries.

The modern-day Halloween traditions started to form when immigrants from Europe started coming to North America. There are newspaper reports from cities in the late-1800s of young men asking people on the street for trick-or-treats.

"On through probably the 1920s, the holiday was associated with kind of pushy, tough guy teenage guys," Suppe said. "But in the 20th century here in Canada and the United States, it turns more to a holiday for children, of both genders."

Since World War II, a lot of parents wanted to make it safe for children to go around the neighborhood, Suppe said. In the latter half of the 20th century, more people started having parties for teenagers and older people.