The History of Halloween: Old English Traditions

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The History of Halloween: Old English Traditions

If you think modern-day Halloween festivities are scary, wait until you hear about how people celebrated the holiday back in Old English times. Halloween originated from an ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain, which marked the end of summer and the beginning of winter. Samhain (pronounced sah-win) was celebrated on the night of October 31st and was believed to be a time when the veil between the living and the dead was thinnest.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane to explore some of the spooky and eerie Halloween traditions practiced by the Old English.

Bonfires and Divination

Bonfires were a significant aspect of Samhain celebrations in Old English times. Communities would gather and light enormous bonfires which would burn continuously throughout the night. This was believed to ward off evil spirits and protect against the harsh winter that lay ahead.

Divination was also a popular custom during these festivities. People would distribute nuts and apples among the attendees, which were believed to hold special properties. Nuts, when cut into two, could predict the future; whereas apples symbolized immortality, and the first person to take a bite would be the next to wed.

Guising and Soul-caking

Guising was an early form of trick-or-treating that originated from the Old English. Young people would dress up in masks and costumes, and go door to door offering songs, recitals, or performances in exchange for food or money. It was believed that these performances would ward off evil spirits that lurked around during the Samhain celebrations.

While Guising was popular in southern and central England, the northern regions developed their own variation called Soul-caking. On All Hallows’ Eve or All Saints’ Day, people would go door to door asking for soul cakes, which were small cakes made in honour of the dead. In exchange for the cakes, the children would offer to pray for the souls of the dead relatives of the household.


While Halloween traditions have evolved over the centuries, the spooky customs of ancient times can still be seen in some of modern-day Halloween’s popular festivities. From trick or treating to divination, Old English traditions continue to influence and inspire the way we celebrate today. So when you’re out and about, hunting for sweets this Halloween, remember to take a moment and pay homage to the eerie customs of Old English times.

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The History of Halloween: Old English Traditions