Halloween traditions share a rich and deep history

Hannah Wagar

Contributing Writer

Halloween dates back centuries, and there are many seasonal traditions seen today that have historic roots, but many trick-or-treaters do not know their origin stories. Knowing how these rituals developed can make plunging a knife into a gourd much more satisfying.

Carving Jack O’Lanterns

The tradition of Jack O’Lanterns dates back to Ireland, with the Dublin Penny Journal publishing the first account in 1836. According to legend, a man named Stingy Jack outsmarted the devil, tricking him into not taking his soul. However, when Stingy Jack dies, the devil upholds their agreement and heaven refuses to take him because of his bad deeds in life. With nowhere to go, Jack is forced to wander the afterlife in between heaven and hell, with only a lantern to guide him. 

In subsequent years, the Dublin Penny Journal published stories about local pubs having “Jack Mclantern” carving competitions, encouraging individuals to cut grotesque or exaggerated faces into hollowed-out turnips or rutabagas. 

In the early-to-mid 1800s, Irish immigrants to the United States began to utilize pumpkins and gourds, commonly associated with the fall harvest, for their lantern face carvings. Over time, it transitioned to be associated with All Hallows’ celebrations.

 Over the years, these carvings have gone by many names, but the most common is the Jack O’Lantern. This name in reference to a carved pumpkin is unclear, but the term was used in many books and articles from the mid-to-late 1800s in the United States, and the term was initially used to describe night watchmen who carried lanterns in 17th century Britain. 

Candy Corn

Loved and despised in seemingly equal numbers, the candy corn was created at the end of the 19th century in Philadelphia during the popularity of rural farm-themed snacks. The National Confectioners Association commonly recognizes George Renninger, an employee of Wunderle Candy Company, as the creator. In 1888, Candy Corn was first sold, initially named Chicken Scratch, because it looked like corn and was “tested” to see if it would fool chickens. 

This yellow, orange, and white treat is made primarily from sugar, corn syrup, honey, and gelatin, used to create a “mellowcreme.” This type of candy was very popular during the Great Depression, as it was cheap and easy to make, but it has stood the test of time, being one of the most popular Halloween candies in the 21st century. 

This confection has evolved in recent years to include a popular “harvest” flavor, as well as many unique flavors such as caramel apple, turkey dinner, hot dog and hamburger, lemonade, and cotton candy. The flavor has also been developed into other foods, such as Oreos, marshmallows, peeps, M&Ms, and Hostess Cupcakes. 


For children, the highlight of the season is going door-to-door, asking for treats while wearing a costume. No one is certain of the true root of this tradition, as there are various elements that may have developed from Ireland, Scotland, and Britain. It is commonly accepted that the tradition developed from the practice of “guising” or “souling,” both of which involve going to houses in a disguise while asking for a gift, usually coins, food, or nuts and fruits, according to the Library of Congress. 

In North America, the first documented occurrences were from the early 1900s, in newspapers near Ontario, Canada. Children were reportedly “guising” in neighborhoods, and it later spread to areas of New England. 

The turn of the 20th century is when candy started to make its way into the holiday, with the increase in mass-produced confections, but it was still not common and was intermixed with fruits and nuts. This introduction started gaining traction just in time to be put on hiatus during WWII, but when trick-or-treating was hosted again at the end of the 1940s, candy began to play a large part. Companies started producing more small, single-packaged candy, known modernly as “fun size” candy, to make it more convenient for households to hand them out. Now, candy is often considered the only acceptable “treat,” and the practice or trick-or-treating is a staple to the holiday. 

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