Forgotten Halloween Traditions

October 30, 2018

How are you celebrating All Hallow’s Eve? Trick-or-treating, taking someone trick-or-treating, or bobbing for apples? You probably won’t get up to some of these old-fashioned things. 

Apple Wedding 

A Scottish tradition that spread to New England, and rarely done in either spot these days: apple peeling. Revelers would engage in a little game where the object was to use a knife to peel an apple’s skin all at once without breaking it, and then throw the skin over your shoulder. Then, you look at the apple skin, and the letter that it most resembles is said to be the first letter of the name of your future spouse. 

The Root (Vegetable) of a Tradition 

We carve faces into pumpkins around Halloween because that plant is abundant in the Americas. The tradition was born out of one in Western Europe, where people made scary faces out of turnips and beets. 

Block Party 

In colonial America, people would get together with their neighbors on Halloween to celebrate the harvest. They’d have “play parties,” where the events including dancing, singing, sharing memories about dead loved ones, and trying to predict each other’s future. 

This One is Nuts 

As the song goes, Christmas is the time for “chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” But Halloween was once the time for roasting hazelnuts over a flame…for important reasons. This Halloween tradition, which dates to the ancient Celts, involved unmarried women assigning a hazelnut to represent each of their suitors. Then they’d toss them into a fire. The one that burned (rather than popped) meant the guy the nut represented would one day marry the lady. 

Stick to it 

A kind of vertical variation on bobbing for apples, this 20th century Halloween party game required you to hang a broomstick from the ceiling, so it ran parallel with the floor. One end, you tied an apple, and on the other, a bag of flour. Then you spin the stick around and invite your party guests to stick their head in there to try to bite the apple…or get a face full of flour (or stick). 

This One Has Got Soul 

Trick-or-Treating comes in part from a 19th century tradition called “souling,” where kids would go door-to-door and offer prayers for the residents therein. In exchange and in thanks, they received small spice cakes called “soul cakes.”