Pre-Pumpkin: Origins of Modern Halloween Traditions

Considering going to a costume party as a history snob this Halloween? You might want to brush up on a few tales before gabbing to your friends over zombie punch and peeled grapes. But before you scour the internet or turn to your Nightmare Before Christmas DVD, we have explanations of a few traditions that should last you through the costume contest.

5. Trick-or-Treating

Love it or hate it, this tradition's been around in some form for at least one hundred years, although some historians say food was given out to the poor instead of treats at first. (So if you're feeling really old school this Halloween, try dropping some corn on the cob into a kid's pillowcase.)

The most popular theory on the origin of trick-or-treating is that it originated from All Souls' Day, a Christian holiday (November 2) that commemorates the departed. Children and the poor would walk around towns in 19th century Europe and ask for soul cakes in exchange for prayers to the food-givers' dead relatives. Wine would sometimes be served along with the cakes. Again, probably not a tradition you want to try to bring back this year.

Bonus literary nerd points: Shakespeare mentions an early form of the tradition in "The Two Gentlemen of Verona."

Check out four more after the jump...

4. Bobbing for Apples

There's some debate on the exact origin of the game, with some attributing it to ancient Celtic festivals, Roman traditions, or both. It might have been a way to honor the Roman goddess of fertility, or could have its roots as a way to predict future lovers.

3.  Jack-o'-Lanterns

The term jack-o'-lantern most likely originated in 18th century Britain, with a very creepy story about a guy named Jack being doomed to walk the Earth with a lantern after pissing off the Devil. The only difference between Jack's lantern and the modern-day version? He used a turnip. Other than that, perfect ghost story.

2. Black and Orange

This one is a little more straight-forward. Orange for Autumn, black for death. Sorry, no turnips or Shakespeare here.

1. Halloween

All Saints' Day is believed to be the jumping off point for what we know as the modern Halloween, but some say it goes back even further to the Celtic tradition of Samhain, a harvest festival linked to the paranormal.

The holiday then might have been brought to the U.S. by Irish immigrants during the 1800s.