6 Odd Halloween Traditions
Every region has its own way of celebrating the holidays, whether it’s how Santa delivers presents, how the Easter Bunny delivers eggs, or how the Arbor Day Aardvark delivers new trees under the decorated Arbor Day tree, causing both an upright logjam and roots to break through your parents’ living room floor. So naturally it makes sense different cultures would have different ways of making Halloween if not a little spookier then a tad more confounding…
It’s the Great Turnip, Charlie Brown
Long before Jack-O-Lanterns were equated with pumpkins slowly rotting on your family’s front porch until they started screaming to be put out of their misery, the turnip was the go-to for medieval Brits looking to carve scary faces and almost lop off their thumbs in the process. And they weren’t called Jack-O-Lanterns back then but rather the more outgoing and determined-sounding “spunkies.” Children would then carry these spunkies at night, not to trick-or-treat but to warn townspeople of impending death, since in ye olden days playtime generally consisted of getting accidentally caught under a carriage’s axle, or getting to sing songs about the plague. In fact, even the spunky scored its own little ditty sung by the glum youth, which consisted of three lines of lyrics: “It’s Spunky Night, It’s Spunky Night/ Gie’s a candle, Gie’s a light/ If ‘ee dont, ‘ee’ll have a fright.” Then the kids dropped dead from either a toothache, a scratch, or just because it was Tuesday.
Ghosts Prefer a Serrated Edge
In Germany people celebrated Halloween by hiding all of their knives. This was done not because they worried one of their kids would attach them all to his clothes and go out as “Sharpy: The Lovable Character Who Can Only Hurt When He Hugs,” but rather so they wouldn’t accidentally skewer a spirit. (Spirits apparently being quite susceptible to random muggings/stabbings back then.) Several now common Halloween traditions began as a means of appeasing spirits, which are notoriously thin-skinned, given to hurt feelings, and prone to moaning “Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, I might as well eat worms.” This includes trick-or-treating, which originally began as the Celtic practice of leaving out food and drink on the windowsill for the passing ghosts who marched into town on Samhain, a sacred festival that either marked the end of the Celtic calendar or signaled the arrival of a spectral invasion force that could easily be won over by Irish soda bread.
Mirror, Mirror, Please Not That Guy
Countless cultures hold that if a young woman looks into a mirror on Halloween night she will see the image of her true lover/future husband/guy she’ll make out with in a hall closet at a party that night even though he insists on keeping his stupid store-bought mask on, meaning there will be absolutely no tongue action whatsoever. On the one hand, Halloween seems to be an odd holiday in which to seek out your possible soul mate, given that the day is much more about the grotesque and guys dressing up as pimps in that same damn costume 37 million men are at this very moment eyeing in a Party City and thinking, “This will blow everyone’s mind!” But on the other hand, the image they see in the mirror of their imminent groom could be so hideous that the young woman’s screams might fill the night, causing some man across town with almost no self-esteem to his name to mumble, “I bet she saw me in that reflection.”
Attract Witches with Poor Fashion Sense
There are countless ways to find yourself in the company of ghosts—move into “the murder house,” build your house on top of an ancient native American burial ground, set up cameras everywhere only to discover your house is actually a ghost B&B when you’re asleep (and your own bedroom is the most popular rental choice). But there seem to be very few options to get the attention of a witch outside of stealing her ruby red slippers or eating her house made of candy and probably inedible spackling. But an old tradition states that the best approach to attracting your local hag/sorceress/misunderstood practitioner of Wiccan is to wear your clothes inside out and walk backwards, no doubt under the belief that witches are exceedingly attracted to idiots who can be led into boiling cauldrons with minimal fuss. Of course, how this tradition actually came into practice probably says more about just how few entertainment options there were in the Middle Ages than anything about witch flirting itself.
Baked Goods Don’t Expect Much from You
Why consult tarot cards, crystal balls, or horoscopes for what the future may bring when you could simply eat something only to choke to death on your fortune? An Irish fruitcake served on Halloween long before trick-or-treaters were getting screwed over by receiving those tiny boxes of Chiclets, the barmback was filled with small prizes that were said to predict your future depending on which item you unknowingly shattered a tooth on. A ring meant an upcoming marriage or the fact the baker’s own engagement ring slipped off midway through the recipe. A piece of straw meant both a prosperous year and a kitchen that was clearly not up to code. And a dirty rag meant you would die poor and were clearly being served dessert by a lunatic who probably would have thought Monopoly hotels would make a feasible alternative to chocolate chips.
Just Forget the Whole Damn Thing
In Switzerland Halloween has only been around since 1999—when stores first started stocking Halloween costumes as well as candy corn no one would ever buy—but is already on its way out. Feeling like they already have more than enough holidays in which to go dressed as multipurpose army knives, chocolate or something equally native, the Swiss have started abandoning the holiday in droves, perhaps in part so they could avoid America’s fate of having every single damn food item taste like pumpkin spice throughout October…before everything then has to taste like peppermint or nutmeg.
Which one was your favorite? Let me know in the comments!