The concept of offering the dead food not only spans thousands of years, but is also found in many different cultures. In one way or another, the records of feeding the dead have been found in Egypt, ancient Rome, China, and Japan. Even members of the Catholic Church would set out food. The actual Dumb Supper, a dinner that’s prepared and served on Halloween night was a tradition the Celts started before the Romans converted to Catholicism and banned the Samhain celebration, replacing it with what eventually became Halloween.
While many Halloween traditions were created in an attempt to ward off the dead, the dumb supper was created as a means for helping the living to connect with those they’d lost. Once the feast began, no one was permitted to speak, which is why many young children weren’t allowed to attend, they simply couldn’t stay silent for the entire duration of the multi-course meal.
The supper took place as close to midnight as possible since this was the time when the veil between the living and the dead was thin enough for the lost souls to return to temporarily return to the mortal world. Before the food was served, all the doors and windows were unlocked and whenever possible, opened, making it easier for the spirits to gain entrance. Some cultures left an empty, black cloth draped chair at the head of the table, while others opt to leave several empty chairs around the table.
The tradition of partaking in the traditional dumb supper has gotten lost as trick-or-treating gained popularity, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still exist. Not only are there some households that serve a dumb dinner each year, but there are also groups in both the United States and Europe that host the event. Many sell tickets and invite members of the general public to participate. For contemporary dumb suppers, all unnatural lights are turned off and only candles are used to light the table.