When you arrive at someone’s doorstep, you likely knock on the door or ring the doorbell to alert them of your presence. The tradition makes sense; you want to be heard so someone will come to the door. However, there are plenty of other doorstep traditions that are completely foreign to North Americans.
Doors are a cultural staple throughout the world. They’re an entrance point into the home of a friend or stranger. They’re a big contributor to the overall look and feel of the home. In many religions and cultures, they’re part of an important tradition.
Here are some of the most interesting facts about doors from around the world. You may never look at your door in the same way again.
Doors and Pranks: You’ve probably heard of a prank/game called ding dong ditch, doorbell ditching, or nicky nicky nine doors. Usually played by kids and teens, it involves knocking on someone’s door (or ringing their doorbell) and running away. Sometimes kind neighbours and friends use this method to leave treats or gifts at your doorstep, but more often than not, it’s used by pranksters.
But, did you know that ding dong ditch originated in 19th century England as “knock, knock, ginger”? The name is based on a clever British rhyme that begins, “Ginger, ginger broke a winder . . .” Now it’s practiced in several different countries, including Canada.
Clap First: In rural areas in Brazil, it’s customary to stand in the yard and clap—not knock—for admittance to someone’s abode. This is especially polite for small dwellings that have thin walls and little privacy.
Knock Before You’re Wed: Among some communities in Ghana, before a man can take a woman to wife, her family must approve of the choice. How does the potential groom present himself to them? You guessed it: he knocks on their door.
During this knocking ceremony, the groom arrives with his father and other family members. They knock on the door and bring drinks and money to the bride’s family to announce their intention. If the drinks are accepted, a spokesman from the groom’s family announces the groom’s desire to marry their daughter. The bride’s family generally looks into the family’s background and reputation before accepting the match.
Door to Door: Door-to-door sales has a long history in the United States, starting with peddlers who carried supplies in wagons. The advent of the internet may make us believe that door-to-door sales are dying out. However, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics has noted that money coming in from direct sales is not declining as they expected. It appears that the personal touch that comes from door-to-door sales cannot be replicated elsewhere. Some of the most common door-to-door products sold include home security systems, construction and repair services, and magazine subscriptions.
Knock on Wood: Whether it’s on an actual door or elsewhere, you’ve probably seen somebody knock on wood for good luck. It’s said this was originally a Celtic tradition. According to legend, spirits lived in trees, and knocking on wood would alert the spirit to grant your wish. Similarly, when someone made a boastful claim, they might knock on wood to prevent a bad spirit from hearing the claim and lashing out. Among other cultures, simply touching wood signified being close to the forest—and its magic.
Here We Come A-Wassailing: Have you ever been confused by the Christmas song “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” that demands the listener to “bring us some figgy pudding”? Wassailing was a medieval tradition where peasants sang at the doors of the wealthy, requesting food and drink in exchange for music and good tidings—hence the figgy pudding. It was not originally associated with Christmas, but evolved to become so.
Trick or Treat: Here’s another door-to-door tradition associated with the Middle Ages. You might not know that Celtic people originally dressed up as demons at Halloween time to hide from the demons that were said to roam the earth at that time. With Christianity’s influence, people began to dress up as saints and angels. Similar to wassailing, dressed-up children and the poor went door to door on Hallowmas, requesting food and money in exchange for songs and prayers.
So where did the term “trick or treat” come from? The Blackie, Alberta Canada Herald references it in 1927, saying that pranksters created minor havoc when they appeared at doorsteps in search of edible plunder, demanding “trick or treat.”
Doors from the Past, Doors to the Future
Doors are a staple for most cultures around the world, but they’re far from boring. Doors aren’t only an entrance point to a home, but are an important part of history and culture, and will continue to be so. Next time you open your front door, remember how important this sturdy structure is for your home, your family, and your culture.