Halloween is an observance celebrated on the night of October 31, most notably by children dressing in costumes and going door-to-door collecting sweets or money.
The term Halloween, and its older spelling Hallowe'en, is the shorter version of All-hallow-even; it is the evening before All Hallows Day. In Ireland, the name was All Hallows Eve and this name is still used by some older people. Halloween was also sometimes called All Saints' Eve. The holiday was a day of religious festivities in various northern European pagan traditions, until it was appropriated by Christian missionaries and given a Christian interpretation. In Mexico November 1st and 2nd are celebrated as the Day of the Dead. Halloween is also called Pooky Night in some parts of Ireland, presumably named after the Puck, a mischievous[spirit.
On Great Britain and Ireland in particular, the pagan Celts celebrated the Day of the Dead on All Hallows Day, 1st November. The spirits supposedly rose from the dead and, in order to attract them, food was left on the doors. To scare off the spirits, the Celts wore masks. When the Romans invaded Great Britain, they embellished the tradition with their own, which is both a celebration of the harvest and of honouring the dead. Very much later, these traditions were transported to the United States, Canada and Australia.
Halloween is sometimes associated with the Occult. Many European cultural traditions hold that Halloween is one of the times of the year when the spiritual world may make contact with the physical world and when magic level is at its peak.
It is celebrated in much of the Western world, though most common in the United States, Puerto Rico, the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom and Canada.
Irish, Scottish and other immigrants brought older versions of the tradition to North America in the 19th century.
Most other Western countries have embraced Halloween as a part of American pop culture in the late 20th century.
Celebrations in the UK
Although Halloween isn't as popular in the UK as the US or Canada it is still celebrated. In some parts of the United Kingdom, Halloween was formerly known as Mischief Night. People would take the doors off their hinges on this night. The doors were also often thrown into ponds, or taken a long way away.
In England it is said that elves rode on the backs of the villagers' cats. The cats had fun but the villagers did not and would lock their cats up so that the elves could not catch them.
Children were told not to sit in the circles of yellow and white flowers where fairies have danced as they may be stolen by the fairies. It was also bad to sit under the hawthorn tree since fairies loved to dance on these and if they saw children their tempers would be prickled.
In England, the black cat was considered to be good luck, whereas a white cat was considered to be bad luck.
In England children make "pumpkin men" from large pumpkins. They cut out designs into the pumpkin. Then they place them on display in their windows to go along with the scary theme of Halloween.
Celebrations in North America
- Anoka, Minnesota, USA, the self-proclaimed "Halloween Capital of the World", celebrates with a large civic parade.
- Salem, Massachusetts, USA, also has laid claim to the title "Halloween Capital of the World," though Salem has tried to separate itself from its history in the subject of witchcraft. Despite that, the city does see a great deal of tourism surrounding the Salem witch trials, especially around Halloween.
- New York City, New York, USA, hosts the United States' largest Halloween celebration, The Village Halloween Parade. Started by a Greenwich Village mask maker in 1973, the parade now attracts over 2 million spectators/participants as well as roughly 4 million television viewers each year. It is the largest participatory parade in the country if not the world, encouraging spectators to march in the parade as well. It is also the largest annual parade held at night.
- In the United States trick-or-treaters are welcomed by placing lighted pumpkins known as jack-o'-lanterns in their windows.
Celebrations in Australia
- Halloween is not celebrated much in Australia as it is in the U.S., and although slowly increasing in popularity, very few Australian children would actually go "trick or treating". Despite this, Halloween is still popular among some of the Australian population. Houses are sometimes decorated with a Halloween-themed style, to attract trick-or-treaters.
Halloween in Australia is also be known as Mischief Night and Danger Night. A popular Australian Halloween recipe is the "Halloween Butternut Pumpkins".
Halloween's theme is spooky or scary things particularly involving death, magic, or mythical monsters.
Commonly-associated Halloween characters include ghosts, ghouls, witches, bats, black cats, spiders, goblins, zombies, skeletons, werewolves, and Demons, as well as certain fictional figures like Dracula and Frankenstein. Buildings and houses are often decorated with these symbols around Halloween.
Black and orange are the traditional colors of Halloween. In modern Halloween images and products, purple, green, and red are also prominent.
Elements of the autumn season, such as pumpkin and scarecrows, are also reflected in symbols of Halloween.
The carved jack-o'-lantern, lit by a candle inside, is one of Halloween's most prominent symbols. Although there is a tradition in the British Isles of carving a lantern from a rutabaga, mangelwurzel, or turnip, the practice first became associated with Halloween in North America, where the pumpkin was available, and much larger and easier to carve. Many families that celebrate Halloween carve a pumpkin into a frightening or comical face and place it on their home's doorstep after dark.
Neopagans of North America honor their ancestors on October 31. It was once believed that on this night any souls who had not yet passed into the paradise of the summer lands might return to wander the streets and visit their old homes once more.
Trick-or-treating and guising
The main event of modern US-style Halloween is either called Trick-or-treating or trick-or-treat, in which children dress up in Halloween costume disguises and go door-to-door in their neighborhood, ringing each doorbell and yelling "trick or treat!" Although this resembles the older tradition of Trick-or-treating in Ireland and Scotland, ritual begging on Halloween does not appear in English-speaking America until the 20th century, and may have developed independently. The occupants of the house (who might themselves dress in a scary costume) will then hand out small candy miniature or other treats.
In Ireland, great bonfires were lit throughout the breadth of the land. Young children in their guises were gladly received by the neighbours with some fruit, apples and nuts for the Halloween Party, whilst older male siblings played innocent pranks on bewildered victims.
In Scotland, children or guisers are more likely to recite The sky is blue, the grass is green, may we have our Halloween" instead of "trick or treat! . They visit neighbours in groups and must impress the members of the houses they visit with a song, poem, trick, joke or dance in order to earn their treats. Traditionally, nuts, oranges, apples and dried fruit were offered, though sometimes children would also earn a small amount of cash, usually a sixpence. Very small children often take part, for whom the experience of performing can be more terrifying than the ghosts outside.
Tricks play less of a role in modern Halloween, though Halloween night is often marked by vandalism such as soaping windows, egging houses or stringing toilet paper through trees. Before indoor plumbing was so widespread, tipping over or displacing outhouses was a popular form of intimidation. Casting flour into the faces of feared neighbours was also done once upon a time.
Typical Halloween costumes have traditionally been monsters such as Vampires, ghosts, witches, and devils. In 19th-century Scotland and Ireland the reason for wearing such fearsome (and non-fearsome) costumes was the belief that since the spirits that were abroad that night were essentially intent on doing harm, the best way to avoid this was to fool the spirits into believing that you were one of them. In recent years, it has become common for costumes to be based on themes other than traditional horror, such as dressing up as a character from a TV show or movie, or choosing a recognizable face from the public sphere, such as a politicians’
Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF has become a common sight during Halloween in North America. Started as a local event in a Philadelphia suburb in 1950, and expanded nationally in 1952, the program involves the distribution of small boxes by schools to trick-or-treaters, in which they can solicit small change donations from the houses they visit.
A child usually "grows out of" trick-or-treating by his or her teenage years. Trick-or-treating by teenagers is accepted, but generally discouraged with genial ribbing by those handing out candy. Teenagers and adults instead often celebrate Halloween with costume parties, staying home to give out candy, listening to Halloween music, or scaring people.
Visiting a haunted house or a dark attraction are other Halloween traditions. Notwithstanding the name, such events are not necessarily held in houses, nor are the edifices themselves necessarily regarded to possess actual ghosts. A variant of this is the haunted trail, where the public encounters supernatural-themed characters or presentations of scenes from horror films while following a trail through a heavily wooded area or field.
Games and other activities
There are several games traditionally associated with Halloween parties. The most common is dooking or bobbing for apples, in which apple s float in a tub or a large basin of[water; the participants must use their teeth to remove an apple from the basin. A variant 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 cones by strings; these must be eaten without using hands while they remain attached to the string, an activity which inevitably leads to a very sticky face.
Some games traditionally played at Halloween are forms of divination. In Puicíní, a game played in Ireland, a blindfolded person is seated in front of a table on which several saucers are placed. The saucers are shuffled and the seated person then chooses one by touch. The contents of the saucer determine the person's life for the following year. A saucer containing earth means someone known to the player will die during the next year, a saucer containing water foretells travel, a coin means new wealth, a bean means poverty, etc. In 19th-century Ireland, young women placed slugs in saucers sprinkled with flour. The wriggling of the slugs and the patterns subsequently left behind on the saucers were believed to portray the faces of the women's future spouses.
In North America, unmarried women were frequently 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 they married, a skull would appear. The custom was widespread enough to be commemorated on greeting cards from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The telling of ghost stories and viewing of horror films are common fixtures of Halloween parties.
Television specials]] with a Halloween theme, 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 atmosphere.
Because the holiday comes in the wake of the annual apple harvest, Candy Apples (also known as toffee, taffy or caramel apples) are a common treat at Halloween. They are made by rolling whole apples in a sticky sugar syrup, and sometimes then rolling them in nuts. At one time candy apples were a common treat given to children, but this practice rapidly waned after widespread rumours that some individuals were embedding items like pins and razor blades in the apples that they would pass out to children. While there is evidence of such incidents occurring they are very rare and have never resulted in any serious injuries. Nonetheless, many parents were under the assumption that the practice was common. At the peak of this hysteria, some hospitals were offering to x-ray children's Halloween haul at no cost in order to look for such items. Almost all of the very few Halloween candy poisoning incidents on record involved parents who poisoned their own children's candy, while there are occasional reports of children sticking needles in their own candy (and that of other children) more in an effort to get attention than cause any harm.
A Halloween custom which has survived unchanged to this day in Ireland is the baking, or purchase, of a barmbrack (Irish "báirín breac"). This is a light fruit cake into which a plain ring is placed before baking. It is said that whoever finds this ring will find his or her true love during the following year.
Pope Boniface IV established an anniversary dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the martyrs when he consecrated the Pantheon on May 13, 609 or 610. This Christian feast day was moved to November 1st from May 13th by Pope Gregory III in the eighth century in order to mark the dedication of the All Saints Chapel in Rome — establishing November 1st as All Saints Day and October 31st as All Hallows’ Eve. Initially this change of date only applied to the diocese of Rome, but was extended to the rest of Christendom a century later by Pope Gregory IV in an effort to standardize liturgical worship.
The feast day of All Souls Day, celebrated to commemorate those souls condemned temporarily to Purgatory, was inaugurated by St Odilo, at the time the abbott of the influential monastery at Cluny, on November 2nd, 998.
Halloween's Origin: Samhain
According to what can be reconstructed of the beliefs of the ancient Celts, the new year began around November 1 or on a New Moon near that date, a day referred to in modern Gaelic as Samhain ("Sow-in" or alternatively "Sa-ven", meaning: "End of the Summer"). Just as sundown meant the start of a new day, shorter days signified the start of the new year; therefore the harvest festival began every year on the night of preceding the autumn new year date. After the adoption of the Roman calendar with its fixed months, the date began to be celebrated independently of the Moon's phases.
As November 1 is the first day of the new year, the day also meant the beginning of Winter, which the Celts often associated with human death. The Celts also believed that on October 31 (the night before the new year), the boundary separating the dead from the living became blurred. (There is a rich and unusual myth system at work here; the spirit world, the residence of the "Sidhe," as well as of the dead, was accessible through burial mounds. These mounds opened at two times during the year, making the beginning and end of Summer highly spiritually resonant.)
The Celts' survival during the cold harsh winters, depended on the prophecies of their priests or Druids. They believed that the presence of spirits would aid in the priests' abilities to make future predictions.
The exact customs observed in each Celtic region differ, but they generally involved the lighting of bonfires and the reinforcement of boundaries, across which malicious spirits might cross and threaten the community.
Like most observances around this season, warmth and comfort were emphasized, indulgence was not. Stores of preserved food were needed to last through the winter, not for parties.
Norse Elven Blót
In old Norse religion an event believed to occur around the same time of the year as Halloween was the elven blót, which involved sacrifices to the elves and the blessing of food. The elves were powers connected to the ancestors, and it can be assumed that the blót related to a cult of the ancestors. The álfablót is also celebrated in the modern revival of Norse religion, Ásatrú.
Observance of the traditions faded in the South of England from the 17th century onwards, being replaced by the commemoration of the Gunpowder Plot on November 5. However, it remained popular in Scotland, Ireland and the North of England. It is only in the last decade that it again became popular in the south of England, but as an entirely Americanized version.
The custom survives most accurately on the island of Ireland, where the last Monday of October is a public holiday. All schools close for the following week for mid-term, commonly called the Halloween Break. As a result Ireland and Northern Ireland are the only countries where children never have school on Halloween and are therefore free to celebrate it in the ancient and time-honoured fashion.
The custom of trick-or-treating is thought to have evolved from the European custom called souling, similar to the wassailing customs associated with Yule. On November 2, All Souls' Day, beggars would walk from village to village begging for "soul cakes" — square pieces of bread with currants. Christians would promise to say prayers on behalf of dead relatives helping the soul's passage to heaven. The distribution of soul cakes was encouraged by the church as a way to replace the ancient practice of leaving food and wine for roaming spirits at the Samhain.
In Celtic parts of western Brittany, Samhain is still heralded by the baking of kornigou, cakes baked in the shape of antlers to commemorate the god of winter shedding his cuckold horns as he returns to his kingdom in the Underworld.
In the Isle of Man where Halloween is known as Hop-tu-Naa children carry turnips instead of pumpkin, and sing a song called Jinnie the Witch.
"Punkie Night" is observed on the last Thursday in October in the village of Hinton St. George in the county of Somerset in England. On this night, children carry lanterns made from hollowed-out mangel-wurzels (a kind of beet; in modern days, pumpkins are used) with faces carved into them. They bring these around the village, collecting money and singing the punkie song. Punkie is derived from pumpkin or punk, meaning tinder.
Though the custom is only attested over the last century, and the mangel-wurzel itself was introduced into English agriculture in the late 18th century, "Punkie Night" appears to be much older even than the fable that now accounts for it. The story goes that the wives of Hinton St. George went looking for their wayward husbands at the fair held nearby at Chiselborough, the last Thursday in October, but first hollowed out mangel wurzels in order to make lanterns to light their way. The drunken husbands saw the eerie lights, thought they were goolies (the restless spirits of children who had died before they were baptized), and fled in terror. Children carry the punkies now. The event has spread since about 1960 to the neighbouring village of Chiselborough.
The night before Halloween, known alternately as Devil's Night, Mischief Night, Mizzie Night, Gate Night, Cabbage Night, Mat Night, or Goosie Night is often associated with pranks or destructive activities performed by teenagers. Some of the acts range from vandalism to theft (e.g. of door mats — thus the name Mat Night in certain areas), or even arson. Many youths involved in Mischief Night would be considered too old for traditional trick-or-treating. One of the most common wrong-doings is egging", the act of throwing eggs (sometimes left out for several days to rot) at neighbours' houses, the eggs' yolk causing damage to the paint. Another common Mischief Night act is T.P.ing, in which people's houses, lawns, and trees are covered in[toilet paper streamers.
In parts of northern England, Mischievous Night occurs on the 4th of November, the night before Bonfire Night (associated to Bonfire night because the last phases of the plot were coming together). It is celebrated in the same way, although minor vandalism often includes fireworks, which appear in shops in the United Kingdom around this time for legitimate reasons — to set off alongside bonfires on the following night.
The majority of Christians ascribe no doctrinal significance to Halloween, treating it as a purely secular entity devoted to celebrating imaginary spooks and handing out candy. The secular celebration of Halloween may loom larger in contemporary imagination than does All Saints Day.
The mingling of Christian and Pagan traditions in the development of Halloween, and its real or assumed preoccupation with evil and the supernatural, have left many modern Christians uncertain of how they should react towards the holiday. Some fundamentalist and evangelical along with many Eastern Orthodox Christians and Orthodox Jewish believers consider Halloween a pagan or Satanic holiday, and refuse to allow their children to participate. In some areas, complaints from fundamentalist Christians that the schools were endorsing a pagan religion have led the schools to stop distributing UNICEF boxes at Halloween. Another response among conservative evangelicals in recent years has been the use of Hell house, which attempt make use of Halloween as an opportunity for evangelism.
Other Christians, however, continue to connect the holiday with All Saints Day. Some modern Christian churches commonly offer a fall festival or harvest-themed alternative to Halloween celebrations. Still other Christians hold the view that the holiday is not Satanic in origin or practice and that it holds no threat to the spiritual lives of children: being taught about death and mortality actually being a valuable life lesson.
Likewise, to many Protestant churches, October 31 is also the date of Reformation Day, a minor religious festival. Some families, churches, and religious schools combine the holidays.
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- Various Christian Views of Halloween from a conservative Calvinist perspective
- Snopes' Urban Legends reference page on the hysteria about pins and razor blades being found in Halloween candy
- Pagan / Wiccan statement on Halloween traditions
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- The Haunted Report - The Halloween Industries only independent Blog
- Victorian Halloween
- CBC Digital Archives - Halloween and Tales of Canadian Ghosts
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- Halloween Costume and Pumpkin Carving Ideas
- Classic Halloween Ghost Stories
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