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Halloween (or Hallowe'en) is an annual holiday observed on October 31, primarily in the United States, Canada, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. It has roots in the Celtic festival of Samhain and the Christian holiday All Saints' Day, but is today largely a secular celebration.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Historian Nicholas Rogers, exploring the origins of Halloween, notes that while "some folklorists have detected its origins in the Roman feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, or in the festival of the dead called Parentalia, it is more typically linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain, whose original spelling was Samuin (pronounced sow-an or sow-in)". The name is derived from Old Irish and means roughly "summer's end". A similar festival was held by the ancient Britons and is known as Calan Gaeaf (pronounced K?lan G?i av).
Snap-Apple Night by Daniel Maclise showing a Halloween party in Blarney, Ireland, in 1832. The young children on the right bob for apples. A couple in the center play a variant, which involves retrieving an apple hanging from a string. The couples at left play divination games.
The festival of Samhain celebrates the end of the "lighter half" of
the year and beginning of the "darker half", and is sometimesregarded as the "Celtic New Year".
The ancient Celts believed that the border between this world and the Otherworld
became thin on Samhain, allowing spirits (both harmless and harmful) to
pass through. The family's ancestors were honoured and invited home
while harmful spirits were warded off. It is believed that the need to
ward off harmful spirits led to the wearing of costumes and masks.
Their purpose was to disguise oneself as a harmful spirit and thus
avoid harm. In Scotland the spirits were impersonated by young men
dressed in white with masked, veiled or blackened faces. Samhain was also a time to take stock of food supplies and slaughter livestock for winter stores. Bonfires
played a large part in the festivities. All other fires were doused and
each home lit their hearth from the bonfire. The bones of slaughtered
livestock were cast into its flames.
Sometimes two bonfires would be built side-by-side, and people and
their livestock would walk between them as a cleansing ritual.
Another common practice was divination, which often involved the use of food and drink.
The name 'Halloween' and many of its present-day traditions derive from the Old English era.
Origin of name
The word Halloween is first attested in the 16th century and represents a Scottish variant of the fuller All-Hallows-Even ("evening",
that is, the night before All Hallows Day. Up through the early 20th
century, the spelling "Hallowe'en" was frequently used, eliding the "v"
and shortening the word. Although the phrase All Hallows is found in Old English (ealra h?lgena m?ssed?g, mass-day of all saints), All-Hallows-Even is itself not attested until 1556.
Development of artifacts and symbols associated with Halloween formed over time encompassing customs of medieval holy days as well as contemporary cultures. The souling practice of commemorating the souls in purgatory with candle lanterns carved from turnips, became adapted into the making of jack-o'-lanterns.
In traditional Celtic Halloween festivals, large turnips were hollowed
out, carved with faces, and placed in windows to ward off evil spirits. The carving of pumpkins
is associated with Halloween in North America where pumpkins are both
readily available and much larger – making them easier to carve than
Many families that celebrate Halloween carve a pumpkin into a
frightening or comical face and place it on their doorstep after dark.
The American tradition of carving pumpkins preceded the Great Famine period of Irish immigration
and was originally associated with harvest time in general, not
becoming specifically associated with Halloween until the mid-to-late
The imagery of Halloween is derived from many sources, including national customs, works of Gothic and horror literature (such as the novels Frankenstein and Dracula), and classic horror films (such as Frankenstein and The Mummy). Elements of the autumn season, such as pumpkins, corn husks, and scarecrows, are also prevalent. Homes are often decorated with these types of symbols around Halloween.
Halloween imagery includes themes of death, evil, the occult, magic, or mythical monsters. Traditional characters include ghosts, witches, skeletons, vampires, werewolves, demons, bats, spiders, and black cats.
Black and orange are the traditional Halloween colors and represent the
darkness of night and the color of bonfires, autumn leaves, and
Trick-or-treating and guising
Trick-or-treating is a customary celebration for children on
Halloween. Children go in costume from house to house, asking for treats
such as candy or sometimes money, with the question, "Trick or treat?"
The word "trick" refers to a (mostly idle) "threat" to perform mischief
on the homeowners or their property if no treat is given. In some parts
of Scotland children still go guising. In this custom the child performs
some sort of trick, i.e. sings a song or tells a ghost story, to earn
The practice of dressing up in costumes and begging door to door for treats on holidays dates back to the Middle Ages and includes Christmas wassailing. Trick-or-treating resembles the late medieval practice of souling, when poor folk would go door to door on Hallowmas (November 1), receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day (November 2). It originated in Ireland and Britain, although similar practices for the souls of the dead were found as far south as Italy. Shakespeare mentions the practice in his comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1593), when Speed accuses his master of "puling [whimpering or whining] like a beggar at Hallowmas." The custom of wearing costumes and masks at Halloween goes back to Celtic traditions of attempting to copy the evil spirits or placate them, in Scotland for instance where the dead were impersonated by young men with masked, veiled or blackened faces, dressed in white.
American historian and author Ruth Edna Kelley of Massachusetts wrote the first book length history of the holiday in the US; The Book of Hallowe'en (1919), and references souling in the chapter "Hallowe'en in America";
The taste in Hallowe'en festivities now is to study old traditions, and hold a Scotch party, using Burn's poem Hallowe'en
as a guide; or to go a-souling as the English used. In short, no custom
that was once honored at Hallowe'en is out of fashion now.
Kelley lived in Lynn, Massachusetts, a town with 4,500 Irish immigrants, 1,900 English immigrants, and 700 Scottish immigrants in 1920.
In her book, Kelley touches on customs that arrived from across the
Atlantic; "Americans have fostered them, and are making this an occasion
something like what it must have been in its best days overseas. All
Hallowe'en customs in the United States are borrowed directly or adapted
from those of other countries".
At the time of substantial transatlantic Scottish and Irish
immigration that brought the holiday to North America in the 19th
century, Halloween in Scotland and Ireland had a strong tradition of
"guising" — Scottish and Irish children disguised in costumes going from
door to door requesting food or coins.
The earliest known reference to ritual begging on Halloween in
English speaking North America occurs in 1911, when a newspaper in Kingston, Ontario
reported that it was normal for the smaller children to go street
"guising" (see below) on Halloween between 6 and 7 p.m., visiting shops
and neighbors to be rewarded with nuts and candies for their rhymes and
songs. Another isolated reference to ritual begging on Halloween appears, place unknown, in 1915, with a third reference in Chicago in 1920.
The earliest known use in print of the term "trick or treat" appears in 1927, from Blackie, Alberta, Canada:
Hallowe’en provided an opportunity for real strenuous fun. No real
damage was done except to the temper of some who had to hunt for wagon
wheels, gates, wagons, barrels, etc., much of which decorated the front
street. The youthful tormentors were at back door and front demanding
edible plunder by the word “trick or treat” to which the inmates gladly
responded and sent the robbers away rejoicing.
The thousands of Halloween postcards produced between the turn of the
20th century and the 1920s commonly show children but do not depict
trick-or-treating.The editor of a collection of over 3,000 vintage Halloween postcards
writes, "There are cards which mention the custom [of trick-or-treating]
or show children in costumes at the doors, but as far as we can tell
they were printed later than the 1920s and more than likely even the
1930s. Tricksters of various sorts are shown on the early postcards, but
not the means of appeasing them".
Trick-or-treating does not seem to have become a widespread practice
until the 1930s, with the first U.S. appearances of the term in 1934, and the first use in a national publication occurring in 1939.
People dressing in Halloween Costumes in Dublin.
Halloween costumes are traditionally modeled after monsters such as
ghosts, skeletons, witches, and devils. Over time, the costume selection
extended to include popular characters from fiction, celebrities, and
generic archetypes such as ninjas and princesses.
Dressing up in costumes and going "guising" was prevalent in Scotland and Ireland at Halloween by the 19th century. Costuming became popular for Halloween parties in the US in the early
20th century, as often for adults as for children. The first
mass-produced Halloween costumes appeared in stores in the 1930s when trick-or-treating was becoming popular in the United States.
What sets Halloween costumes apart from costumes for other
celebrations or days of dressing up is that they are often designed to
imitate supernatural and scary beings. Costumes are traditionally those of monsters such as vampires, ghosts, skeletons, witches, and devils, or in more recent years such science fiction-inspired characters as aliens and superheroes.
There are also costumes of pop culture figures like presidents,
athletes, celebrities, or film, television, and cartoon characters.
Another popular trend is for women (and in some cases, men)to wear sexy
or revealing costumes.
Halloween costume parties generally fall on, or around, 31 October, often falling on the Friday or Saturday prior to Halloween
Games and other activities
In this Halloween greeting card from 1904, divination
is depicted: the young woman looking into a mirror in a darkened room
hopes to catch a glimpse of the face of her future husband.
There are several games traditionally associated with Halloween
parties. One common game is dunking or apple bobbing, in which apples
float in a tub or a large basin of water and the participants must use
their teeth to remove an apple from the basin. A variant of dunking involves kneeling on a chair, holding a fork between the teeth and trying to drop the fork into an apple.
Another common game involves hanging up treacle or syrup-coated scones
by strings; these must be eaten without using hands while they remain
attached to the string, an activity that inevitably leads to a very
Some games traditionally played at Halloween are forms of divination.
A traditional Scottish form of divining one's future spouse is to carve
an apple in one long strip, then toss the peel over one's shoulder. The
peel is believed to land in the shape of the first letter of the future
Unmarried women were told that if they sat in a darkened room and gazed
into a mirror on Halloween night, the face of their future husband
would appear in the mirror. However, if they were destined to die before
marriage, a skull would appear. The custom was widespread enough to be commemorated on greeting cards from the late 19th century and early 20th century.
The telling of ghost stories and viewing of horror films are common
fixtures of Halloween parties. Episodes of television series and
Halloween-themed specials (with the specials usually aimed at children)
are commonly aired on or before the holiday, while new horror films are
often released theatrically before the holiday to take advantage of the
Haunted attractions are entertainment venues designed to thrill and
scare patrons. Most attractions are seasonal Halloween businesses.
Origins of these paid scare venues are difficult to pinpoint, but it is
generally accepted that they were first commonly used by the Junior Chamber International (Jaycees) for fundraising. They include haunted houses, corn mazes, and hayrides,
and the level of sophistication of the effects has risen as the
industry has grown. Haunted attractions in the United States bring in an
estimate $300–500 million each year, and draw some 400,000 customers,
although trends suggest a peak in 2005.
This increase in interest has led to more highly technical special
effects and costuming that is comparable with that in Hollywood films.
Because the holiday comes in the wake of the annual apple harvest, candy apples (known as toffee apples outside North America), caramel or taffy apples are common Halloween treats made by rolling whole apples in a sticky sugar syrup, sometimes followed by rolling them in nuts.
At one time, candy apples were commonly given to children, but the
practice rapidly waned in the wake of widespread rumors that some
individuals were embedding items like pins and razor blades in the apples. While there is evidence of such incidents,
they are quite rare and have never resulted in serious injury.
Nonetheless, many parents assumed that such heinous practices were
rampant because of the mass media. At the peak of the hysteria, some
hospitals offered free X-rays of children's Halloween hauls in order to
find evidence of tampering. Virtually all of the few known candy
poisoning incidents involved parents who poisoned their own children's
One custom that persists in modern-day Ireland is the baking (or more often nowadays, the purchase) of a barmbrack (Irish: b?ir?n breac),
which is a light fruitcake, into which a plain ring, a coin and other
charms are placed before baking. It is said that those who get a ring
will find their true love in the ensuing year. This is similar to the
tradition of king cake at the festival of Epiphany.
List of foods associated with the holiday:
Pumpkin, pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread
Novelty candy shaped like skulls, pumpkins, bats, worms, etc.
Around the world
Halloween is not celebrated in all countries and regions of the
world, and among those that do the traditions and importance of the
celebration vary significantly. Celebration in the United States and
Canada has had a significant impact on how the holiday is observed in
other nations. This larger North American influence, particularly in
iconic and commercial elements, has extended to places such as South America, Australia, Europe, to Japan under the auspices of the Japanese Biscuit Association, and other parts of East Asia.
Christian attitudes towards Halloween are quite diverse. In the Anglican Church, some dioceses have chosen to emphasize the Christian traditions of All Saints’ Day, while some other Protestants celebrate the holiday as Reformation Day, a day to remember the Protestant Reformation. Father Gabriele Amorth, a Vatican-appointed exorcist
in Rome, has said, "if English and American children like to dress up
as witches and devils on one night of the year that is not a problem. If
it is just a game, there is no harm in that." In more recent years, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston has organized a "Saint Fest" on the holiday.
Similarly, many contemporary Protestant churches view Halloween as a
fun event for children, holding events in their churches where children
and their parents can dress up, play games, and get candy.
Many Christians ascribe no negative significance to Halloween,
treating it as a purely secular holiday devoted to celebrating
"imaginary spooks" and handing out candy. To these Christians, Halloween
holds no threat to the spiritual lives of children: being taught about
death and mortality, and the ways of the Celtic ancestors actually being
a valuable life lesson and a part of many of their parishioners'
heritage. In the Roman Catholic Church Halloween is viewed as having a Christian connection,and Halloween celebrations are common in Catholic parochial schools throughout North America and in Ireland.
Other Christians feel concerned about Halloween, and reject the holiday because they feel it trivializes - or celebrates - paganism, the occult, or other practices and cultural phenomena deemed incompatible with their beliefs.A response among some fundamentalist and conservative evangelical churches in recent years has been the use of 'Hell houses', themed pamphlets, or comic-style tracts such as those created by Jack T. Chick in order to make use of Halloween's popularity as an opportunity for evangelism. Some consider Halloween to be completely incompatible with the Christian faith because of its origin as a pagan "Festival of the Dead". For example, Jehovah's Witnesses
do not celebrate Halloween because they believe anything that
originated from a pagan holiday should not be celebrated by true
Celtic Pagans consider the season a holy time of year. Celtic Reconstructionists, and others who maintain ancestral customs, make offerings to the gods and the ancestors. Some Wiccans feel that the tradition is offensive to Wiccan practitioners for promoting stereotypical caricatures of "wicked witches". Pagans most often celebrate this day as Samhain and observe the end of the harvest season.