This is a great
article on Halloween that I think anyone with an interest of Halloween
history will enjoy. It's taken from Wikipedia,
the free encyclopedia .
is a holiday celebrated on the night of October 31, usually by
children dressing in costumes and going door-to-door collecting
candy. It is celebrated in much of the Western world, though most
commonly in the United States, the United Kingdom, the Republic
of Ireland, Canada and sometimes in Australia and New Zealand.
Irish, Scots 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.
The form "Halloween" derives from Hallowe'en,
an old contraction, still retained in Scotland, of "All Hallow's
Eve," so called as it is the day before the Catholic All
Saints holy day, which used to be called "All Hallows,"
derived from All Hallowed Souls. In Ireland, the name was Hallow
Eve and this name is still used by some older people. Halloween
was formerly 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
(along with Christmas and Easter, two other traditional northern
European pagan holidays) and given a Christian reinterpretation.
Halloween is also known as the Day of the Dead, and it is a day
of celebration for Wiccans and other modern pagan traditions,
though the holiday has lost its religious connotations among the
populace at large.
Halloween is also called Pooky Night in some parts
of Ireland, presumably named after the pookah, a mischievous spirit.
In the United Kingdom in particular, the pagan Celts
celebrated the Day of the Dead on Halloween. The spirits supposedly
rose from the dead and, in order to attract them, food was left
on the doors. To scare off the evil spirits, the Celts wore masks.
When the Romans invaded Britain, they embellished the tradition
with their own, which is the celebration of the harvest and honoring
the dead. These traditions were then passed on to the United States.
Halloween is sometimes associated with the occult.
Many European cultural traditions hold that Halloween is one of
the "liminal" times of the year when the spirit world
can make contact with the natural world and when magic is most
potent (see, for example, Catalan mythology about witches).
Anoka, Minnesota, USA, the self-proclaimed "Halloween
Capital of the World," celebrates with a large civic parade.
Halloween's theme is spooky or scary things particularly involving
death, black magic, or mythical monsters. Commonly-associated
Halloween characters include ghosts, witches, bats, black cats,
owls, goblins, zombies and demons, as well as certain fictional
figures like Dracula and Frankenstein's monster. Homes are often
decorated with these symbols around Halloween.
Black and orange are the traditional colors of Halloween. There
are also elements of the autumn season, such as pumpkins and scarecrows,
reflected in symbols of Halloween.
The jack-o'-lantern, a carved vegetable lit by a
candle inside, is one of Halloween's most prominent symbols. In
Britain and Ireland, a turnip was and sometimes still is used,
but immigrants to America quickly adopted the pumpkin because
it is much larger and easier to carve. Many families that celebrate
Halloween will carve a pumpkin into a scary or comical face and
place it on the home's doorstep on Halloween night for fun. Traditionally,
something like this was done in order to scare evil spirits away.
The main event of Halloween is trick-or-treating,
also known as guising in Scotland, in which children dress up
in costume disguises and go door-to-door in their neighborhood,
ringing the bell and yelling "trick or treat!" The occupants
of the house (who might themselves dress in a scary costume) will
then hand out small candies, miniature chocolate bars or other
treats. Homes sometimes use sound effects and fog machines to
help set a spooky mood. Other house decoration themes (that are
less scary) are used to entertain younger visitors. Children can
often accumulate many treats on Halloween night, filling up entire
pillow cases or shopping bags.
In Scotland, children or guisers are likely to recite
"The sky is blue, the grass is green, may we have our Halloween"
instead of "trick or treat!", they will then have to
impress the members of the houses they visit with a song, trick,
joke or dance in order to earn their treats.
Tricks play less of a role in modern Halloween,
though the night before Halloween is often marked by pranks 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 trick.
Typical Halloween costumes have traditionally been
monsters such as vampires, ghosts, witches, and devils. The stereotypical
Halloween costume is a sheet with eyeholes cut in it as a ghost
costume. 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. In 2001, after the September 11 attacks, for
example, costumes of firefighters, police officers, and United
States military personnel became popular among children. In 2004,
an estimated 2.15 million children in the United States were expected
to dress up as Spider Man, the year's most popular costume.
A program started by UNICEF involves the distribution
of small boxes by schools to trick-or-treaters, in which they
can collect small change from the houses they visit for donation
to the charity.
BIGresearch conducted a survey for the National
Retail Federation in the US and found that 54.1% of consumers
planned to buy a costume for Halloween 2004, spending $28.11 on
average. An estimate of $3.12 billion was made for the holiday
A child usually "grows out of" trick-or-treating
by his or her teenage years. Teenagers and adults instead often
celebrate Halloween with costume parties or other social get-togethers.
There are several games traditionally associated
with Halloween parties. The most common is bobbing for apples,
in which apples float in a tub or a large basin of water; the
participants must use their teeth to remove an apple from the
basin. 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 which inevitably
leads to a very sticky face.
Some games traditionally played at Halloween are
forms of divination. In Púicíní (pronounced
"pook-eeny"), a game played in Ireland, a blindfolded
person is seated in front of a table on which are placed several
saucers. 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
Because the holiday comes in the wake of the annual
apple harvest, candy apples (also known as toffee 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 rumors that some
individuals were embedding items like pins and razor blades in
the apples that they would pass out to children. The vast majority
of the reported cases turned out to be hoaxes, and the few that
were real caused only minor injuries, but 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.
A Halloween custom which has survived unchanged
to this day in Ireland is the baking (or more often nowadays the
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.
Other foods associated with the holiday:
* candy corn
* hot apple cider
* roasted pumpkin seeds
Celtic observation of Samhain
In the Druidic religion of the ancient Celts, the
new year began with the winter season of Samhain on November 1.
Just as shorter days signified the start of the new year, sundown
also meant the start of a new day; therefore the harvest festival
began every year on the night of October 31. Druids in the British
Isles would light fires and offer sacrifices of crops, animals
and sometimes humans, and as they danced around the fires, the
season of the sun would pass and the season of darkness would
When the morning of November 1 arrived, the Druids
would give an ember from their fires to each family who would
then take it home to start a new cooking fire. These fires were
intended to keep the homes warm and free from evil spirits such
as "Sidhe" (pronounced "shee," most notable
of which are the beán sidhe or banshees), because at this
time of year it was believed that the invisible "gates"
between this world and the spirit world were opened and free movement
between both worlds was possible.
Bonfires played a large part in the festivities.
Villagers cast the bones of the slaughtered cattle upon the flames;
the word "bonfire" is thought to derive from these "bone
fires." With the bonfire ablaze, the villagers extinguished
all other fires. Each family then solemnly lit their hearth from
the common flame, thus bonding the families of the village together.
Hundreds of fires are still lit each year in Ireland on Halloween
Neopagans still celebrate the sabbat of Samhain
on Halloween, as well as also taking part in secular Halloween
Norse Elven Blót
In the old Norse religion and its modern revival,
Ásatrú, the day now known as Halloween was a blót
which involved sacrifices to the elves and the blessing of food.
A poem from around 1020, the Austrfaravísur
('Eastern-journey verses') of Sigvatr _or_arson, mentions that,
as a Christian, he was refused board in a heathen household, in
Sweden, because an álfablót ("elves' sacrifice")
being conducted there. However, we have no further reliable information
as to what an álfablót involved, but like other
blóts it probably included the offering of foods, and later
Scandinavian folklore retained a tradition of sacrificing treats
to the elves. From the time of year (close to the autumnal equinox)
and the elves' association with fertility and the ancestors, we
might assume that it had to do with the ancestor cult and the
life force of the family.
Observance of Halloween 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 has become popular in the South of England
again, although in an entirely Americanized version.
The custom survives most accurately in 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 is the only country where children never have
school on Halloween and are therefore free to celebrate it in
the ancient and time-honored 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. Kornigou are cakes baked
in the shape of antlers to commemorate the god of winter shedding
his "cuckold" horns as he returns to his kingdom in
"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 neighboring village
Sources: on-line report
from the Western Gazette and a National Geographic radio segment.
Chiselborough Fair is memorialized by Fair Place in the village.
The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868) reported
that there was "a fair for horses and cattle on the last
Thursday in October."
The night before Halloween, known in some areas
as "Mischief Night" or "Devil's Night," is
often associated with destructive activities performed by adolescents.
Some of the acts range from minor vandalism to theft, or even
violence. Many youths involved in mischief night would be considered
too old for traditional trick-or-treating. The most common wrong-doing
is trashing people's houses, lawns, and trees within property
with tons of toilet paper.
A dialect survey begun in 1999 by Harvard University
indicates that there are a number of terms for this particular
day of the year, but that the vast majority (70.38%) have no special
word for it.
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 early centuries following the founding of the Christian Church
have left many modern Christians uncertain of how they should
react towards this holiday. Some fundamentalist Christian groups
consider Halloween a Pagan holiday and may refer to it as "the
most evil day of the year," refusing to allow their children
to participate. Among these groups it is believed to have developed
Satanic influences. In some areas, complaints from these fundamentalist
Christians that the schools were endorsing a Pagan religion have
led the schools to stop distributing UNICEF boxes.
Other Christians, however, continue to connect this
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
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