Hallowtide Traditions

The exact origins of the celebrations and traditions from this part of the year are a mix from different cultures, and with no certainty as to where exactly they all came from.

Hallowtide encompasses All Hallow’s Eve (All Saints’ Eve), All Saints’ Day (a feast day for all the saints not celebrated individually on other days, and All Souls’ Day (for everybody else who has died and isn’t a saint).

It has roots in the Celtic Samhain festival, when, amongst other things, it was believed that the ‘veil’ between the land of the living and that of the dead was at its thinnest, allowing more communication between the two.

Apples, introduced by the Romans and associated with the goddess Pomona, became part of the Hallowe’en tradition, and not just in bobbing or dooking (in Scotland) for apples.

In the 18th century Jack O’Lanterns, made from hollowed out turnips containing a light, had become part of the traditions – if you’ve ever tried to make one you’ll appreciate how much easier this is to do with pumpkins! Jack, trapped after death between heaven (because of his meanness in life) and hell (he had once trapped the devil up a tree by cutting a cross in trunk once the devil was up there), had to walk the earth for eternity. The devil was the more forgiving: although he still wouldn’t allow Jack in, he did give him a coal to light his way, which Jack put in a hollowed out turnip. The faces were added to scare away evil spirits. This also echoes the much earlier Celtic tradition of taking an ember from the Samhain bonfire to light the winter fires which shouldn’t be allowed to go out.

In the days before death became such a taboo in this country, All Hallow’s Eve was a celebration of the dead. Children would visit their neighbours asking for soul cakes (or in the north east, harcake, which is a bit like parkin, whereas soul cakes are more like the modern Fat Rascals) – the fore-runner for trick or treating. Songs about the cakes would be sang as they went round, along with prayers being said for the dead. When the cakes were eaten the next day, it was believed that a soul would be released from purgatory and would go to heaven.

Although this is by no means an exhaustive list of Hallowe’en traditions, it’s interesting that there are more connected to love than anything else:


  • During the day, girls who carry a broken egg in a glass to a spring of water can not only see their future husband by mixing some of the spring water into the glass, but she can also see a glimpse of her future children.
  • Girls should go into a field and there scatter the seed of hemp. While they did so they chanted “Hempseed I sow thee, come after me and show me”. Upon suddenly turning round, it was declared that each girl would see a vision of the man who would be her husband.
  • Girls who carry a lamp to a spring of water can see their future husband in the reflection.
  • If a girl puts a sprig of rosemary herb and a silver sixpence under her pillow, she will see her future husband in a dream.
  • Some believe if you catch a snail and lock it into a flat dish, in the morning you will see the first letter of your sweetheart written in the snail’s slime in the morning.
  • If single people try to take a bite from an apple suspended on a string or floating in a bucket of water, the first to succeed will be the first to marry.
  • If an apple that has been bobbed for is placed under your pillow, you will dream of your future husband.
  • If an apple can be peeled keeping the peel in one long strand, throw the peel over your shoulder and it will form the initial of your true love. It is also said that the length of the peel will indicate the length of your life.
  • Peel an apple in front of a mirror, with a candle as your only light, and over your shoulder you will see your future spouse’s face.
  • To find out of your lover is true, select one of the letters which you have received from your sweetheart, especially one which contains a particularly passionate and important declaration; lay it wide open upon a table and then fold it nine times. Pin the folds together, place the letter in your left-hand glove, and slip it under your pillow. If on that night you dream of silver, gems, glass, castles or clear water, your lover is true and his declarations are genuine; if you dream of linen, storms, fire, wood, flowers, or he is saluting you, he is false and has been deceiving you.

Ghosts & Spirits

  • To prevent ghosts coming into the house at Hallowe’en, bury animal bones or a picture of an animal near the doorway.
  • You should walk around your home three times backwards and counterclockwise before sunset on Hallowe’en to ward off evil spirits.
  • If you see a spider on Hallowe’en, it could be the spirit of a dead loved one who is watching you.
  • A person born on Hallowe’en can see and talk to spirits.

The Future:

  • Bobbing for Apples – Each member of the party is given an apple, from which a small piece has been cut, and into which a fortune written on a slip of paper has been inserted. The apples are thrown into a large tub of water and the company invited to duck their heads and retrieve an apple with their mouths. Upon doing so they draw out the slip of paper and read their fortune.
  • Mashed potatoes offer a method of divining who will be the first to wed. On Hallowe’en into the heap of mashed potatoes a ring, a three penny-bit, a button, a heart-shaped charm, a shell and a key are inserted. Then all the lights in the room are turned out, and each guest, armed with a spoon or fork, endeavours to find the hidden charms. The one who finds the ring win marry first; the three penny-bit signifies wealth; the button, bachelorhood or spinsterhood; the heart, passionate love; the shell, long journeys; the key, great success and power.
  • If you go to a crossroads at Hallowe’en and listen to the wind, you will learn all the most important things that will befall you during the next twelve months.


  • If you hear footsteps behind you on Hallowe’en, don’t look back. It may be the dead following you. Turning back could mean that you will soon join the dead.
  • The old Celtic custom was to light great bonfires on Hallowe’en, and after these had burned out to make a circle of the ashes of each fire. Within this circle, and near the circumference, each member of the various families that had helped to make a fire would place a pebble. If, on the next day, any stone was out of its place, or had been damaged, it was held to be an indication that the one to whom the stone belonged would die within twelve months.

The Devil:

  • In Britain, people believed that the Devil was a nut-gatherer. At Hallowe’en, nuts were used as magic charms.

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