Thursday, October 30, 2014


Halloween is the season for little ghosts and goblins to take to the streets, asking for candy and scaring one another silly. Spooky stories are told around fires, scary movies appear in theaters and pumpkins are expertly (and not-so-expertly) carved into jack-o'-lanterns.
Amid all the commercialism, haunted houses and bogus warnings about razors in apples, the origins of Halloween are often overlooked. Yet Halloween is much more than just costumes and candy; in fact, the holiday has a rich and interesting history.


Halloween, also known as All Hallows' Eve, can be traced back about 2,000 years to a pre-Christian Celtic festival held around Nov. 1 called Samhain (pronounced "sah-win"), which means "summer's end" in Gaelic, according to the Indo-European Etymological Dictionaries. 

Because ancient records are sparse and fragmentary, the exact nature of Samhain is not fully understood, but it was an annual communal meeting at the end of the harvest year, a time to gather resources for the winter months and bring animals back from the pastures. Samhain is also thought to have been a time of communing with the dead, according to folklorist John Santino.

"There was a belief that it was a day when spirits of the dead would cross over into the other world," Santino told Live Science. Such moments of transition in the year have always been thought to be special and supernatural, he added.
Halloween provides a safe way to play with the concept of death, Santino said. People dress up as the living dead, and fake gravestones adorn front lawns — activities that wouldn't be tolerated at other times of the year, he said.
But according to Nicholas Rogers, a history professor at York University in Toronto and author of "Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night" (Oxford University Press, 2003), "there is no hard evidence that Samhain was specifically devoted to the dead or to ancestor worship. 
"According to the ancient sagas, Samhain was the time when tribal peoples paid tribute to their conquerors and when the sidh [ancient mounds] might reveal the magnificent palaces of the gods of the underworld," Rogers wrote. Samhain was less about death or evil than about the changing of seasons and preparing for the dormancy (and rebirth) of nature as summer turned to winter, he said.
Though a direct connection between Halloween and Samhain has never been proven, many scholars believe that because All Saints' Day (or All Hallows' Mass, celebrated Nov. 1) and Samhain, are so close together on the calendar, they influenced each other and later combined into the celebration now called Halloween. 

Costumes and trick-or-treating

The tradition of dressing in costumes and trick-or-treating may go back to the practice of "mumming" and "guising," in which people would disguise themselves and go door-to-door, asking for food, Santino said. Early costumes were usually disguises, often woven out of straw, he said, and sometimes people wore costumes to perform in plays or skits.
The practice may also be related to the medieval custom of "souling" in Britain and Ireland, when poor people would knock on doors on Hallowmas (Nov. 1), asking for food in exchange for prayers for the dead.
Trick-or-treating didn't start in the United States until World War II, but American kids were known to go out on Thanksgiving and ask for food — a practice known as Thanksgiving begging, Santino said.
"Mass solicitation rituals are pretty common, and are usually associated with winter holidays," Santino said. While one tradition didn't necessarily cause the others, they were "similar and parallel," he said.

Tricks and games

These days, the "trick" part of the phrase "trick or treat" is mostly an empty threat, but pranks have long been a part of the holiday.
By the late 1800s, the tradition of playing tricks on Halloween was well established. In the United States and Canada, the pranks included tipping over outhouses, opening farmers' gates and egging houses. But by the 1920s and '30s, the celebrations more closely resembled an unruly block party, and the acts of vandalism got more serious.
Some people believe that because pranking was starting to get dangerous and out of hand, parents and town leaders began to encourage dressing up and trick-or-treating as a safe alternative to doing pranks, Santino said. 
However, Halloween was as much a time for festivities and games as it was for playing tricks or asking for treats. Apples are associated with Halloween, both as a treat and in the game of bobbing for apples, a game that since the colonial era in America was used for fortune-telling. Legend has it that the first person to pluck an apple from the water-filled bucket without using his or her hands would be the first to marry, according to the book "Halloween and Commemorations of the Dead" (Chelsea House, 2009) by Roseanne Montillo.
Apples were also part of another form of marriage prophecy. According to legend, on Halloween (sometimes at the stroke of midnight), young women would peel an apple into one continuous strip and throw it over her shoulder. The apple skin would supposedly land in the shape of the first letter of her future husband's name.
Another Halloween ritual involved looking in a mirror at midnight by candlelight, for a future husband's face was said to appear. (A scary variation of this later became the "Bloody Mary" ritual familiar to many schoolgirls.) Like many such childhood games, it was likely done in fun, though at least some people took it seriously. [Related: Why Do We Carve Pumpkins at Halloween?]

Christian/Irish influence

Some evangelical Christians have expressed concern that Halloween is somehow satanic because of its roots in pagan ritual. However, ancient Celts did not worship anything resembling the Christian devil and had no concept of it. In fact, the Samhain festival had long since vanished by the time the Catholic Church began persecuting witches in its search for satanic cabals. And, of course, black cats do not need to have any association with witchcraft to be considered evil — simply crossing their path is considered bad luck any time of year.
As for modern Halloween, Santino, writing in "American Folklore: An Encyclopedia" (Garland, 1996), noted that "Halloween beliefs and customs were brought to North America with the earliest Irish immigrants, then by the great waves of Irish immigrants fleeing the famines of the first half of the nineteenth century. Known in the North American continent since colonial days, by the middle of the twentieth century Halloween had become largely a children's holiday." Since that time, the holiday's popularity increased dramatically as adults, communities and institutions (such as schools, campuses and commercial haunted houses) have embraced the event.
Through the ages, various supernatural entities — including fairies and witches — came to be associated with Halloween, and more than a century ago in Ireland, the event was said to be a time when spirits of the dead could return to their old haunting grounds. Dressing up as ghosts or witches became fashionable, though as the holiday became more widespread and more commercialized (and with the arrival of mass-manufactured costumes), the selection of disguises for kids and adults greatly expanded beyond monsters to include everything from superheroes to princesses to politicians. 

13 Halloween Superstitions & Traditions Explained

Halloween may seem like it's all about costumes and candy, but the holiday — which is relatively new to America, having only become popular in the early 1900s — has its roots in pagan beliefs. Dating back about 2,000 years, Halloween marked the Celtic New Year and was originally called Samhain, which translates to "summer's end" in Gaelic.
Some Halloween traditions, such as carving Jack-o'-lanterns, are based on Irish folklore and have been carried on throughout the centuries, while others, such as candy corn, are more modern Halloween additions. Read on to find out the meaning behind 13 spooky Halloween staples, including spiders, witches and trick-or-treating.

A black cat with haunches up

Black Cats

Credit: Joy Brown | shutterstockOften used as symbols of bad luck, black cats grace many Halloween decorations. The black cat's bad reputation dates back to the Dark Ages, when witch hunts were commonplace. Elderly, solitary women were often accused of witchcraft, and their pet cats were said to be their "familiars," or demonic animals that had been given to them by the devil. [Read: Here Kitty, Kitty: 10 Facts for Cat Lovers]
Another medieval myth told that Satan turned himself into a cat when socializing with witches. But nowadays, black cats aren't synonymous with bad luck and mischief everywhere — in Ireland, Scotland and England, it's considered good luck for a black cat to cross your path.


Credit: Jo Ann Snover | shutterstock
A fun fall activity, carving Jack-o'-lanterns actually has its roots in a sinister, tragic fable. Celtic folklore tells the tale of a drunken farmer named Jack who tricked the devil, but his trickery resulted in him being turned away from both the gates of heaven and hell after he died. Having no choice but to wander around the darkness of purgatory, Jack made a lantern from a turnip and a burning lump of coal that the devil had tossed him from hell.

Jack, the story goes, used the lantern to guide his lost soul; as such, the Celts believed that placing Jack-o'-lanterns outside would help guide lost spirits home when they wander the streets on Halloween. Originally made using a hollowed-out turnip with a small candle inside, Jack-o'-lanterns' frightening carved faces also served to scare evil spirits away. When the Irish potato famine of 1846 forced Irish families to flee to North America, the tradition came with them. Since turnips were hard to come by in the states at the time, pumpkins were used as a substitute.

A black bat flying against moonlit clouds


Credit: javarman | shutterstockMedieval folklore also described bats as witches' familiars, and seeing a bat on Halloween was considered to be quite an ominous sign. One myth was that if a bat was spotted flying around one's house three times, it meant that someone in that house would soon die. Another myth was that if a bat flew into your house on Halloween, it was a sign that your house was haunted because ghosts had let the bat in.

A spider on a spiderweb


Credit: papkin | shutterstockA common source of fear, spiders make for creepy, crawly Halloween staples. They join the ranks of bats and black cats in folklore as being evil companions of witches during medieval times. One superstition held that if a spider falls into a candle-lit lamp and is consumed by the flame, witches are nearby. And if you spot a spider on Halloween, goes another superstition, it means that the spirit of a deceased loved one is watching over you.


Credit: Darren K. Fisher | shutterstock
The stereotypical image of the haggard witch with a pointy black hat and warty nose stirring a magical potion in her cauldron actually stems from a pagan goddess known as "the crone," who was honored during Samhain. The crone was also known as "the old one" and the "Earth mother," who symbolized wisdom, change, and the turning of the seasons. Today, the kind, all-knowing old crone has morphed into the menacing, cackling witch.


Credit: James Steidl | shutterstock
The pagan Celts believed that after death, all souls went into the crone's cauldron, which symbolized the Earth mother's womb. There, the souls awaited reincarnation, as the goddess' stirring allowed for new souls to enter the cauldron and old souls to be reborn. That image of the cauldron of life has now been replaced by the steaming, bubbling, ominous brew.

Witch with broomstick

Witch's Broomstick

Credit: Dmitri Mihhailov | shutterstockThe witch's broomstick is another superstition that has its roots in medieval myths. The elderly, introverted women that were accused of witchcraft were often poor and could not afford horses, so they navigated through the woods on foot with the help of walking sticks, which were sometimes substituted by brooms.
English folklore tells that during night-time ceremonies, witches rubbed a "flying" potion on their bodies, closed their eyes and felt as though they were flying. The hallucinogenic ointment, which caused numbness, rapid heartbeat and confusion, gave them the illusion that they were soaring through the sky

Kids Trick-Or-Treating in Costumes

Trick-Or-Treating in Costumes

Credit: Monkey Business Images | shutterstockIn olden times, it was believed that during Samhain, the veil between our world and the spirit world was thinnest, and that the ghosts of the deceased could mingle with the living. The superstition was that the visiting ghosts could disguise themselves in human form, such as a beggar, and knock on your door during Samhain asking for money or food. If you turned them away empty-handed, you risked receiving the wrath of the spirit and being cursed or haunted.
Another Celtic myth was that dressing up as a ghoul would fool the evil spirits into thinking that you were one of them so that they would not try to take your soul. In the U.S., trick-or-treating became a customary Halloween tradition around the late 1950s, after it was brought over by Irish immigrants in the early 1900s.

Halloween party with drinks and decorations

Halloween Colors

Credit: sarsmis | shutterstockThe traditional Halloween colors of orange and black actually stem from the pagan celebration of autumn and the harvest, with orange symbolizing the colors of the crops and turning leaves, while black marks the "death" of summer and the changing season. Over time, green, purple and yellow have also been introduced into the color scheme of Halloween decorations.

A smashed Jack-O'-Lantern

Mischief Night

Credit: iofoto shutterstockFrom some — namely troublesome teenagers — Halloween is also a time for neighborhood pranks. From egging and toilet-papering houses to smashing jack-o'-lanterns, "devil's night" can be full of mischief and menace.
The ancient Celts celebrated Samhain with bonfires, games and comical pranks. By the 1920s and 30s, however, the celebrations became more rowdy, with rising acts of vandalism, possibly due to the tension caused by the Great Depression, according to Jack Santino's "Halloween and Other Festivals of Death and Life" (Univ. of Tennessee Press, 1994). To curb the vandalism, adults began to hand out candy, reigniting the forgotten tradition of trick-or-treating in costume in exchange for sweets. This successfully replaced most of the mischief elements from Oct. 31 celebrations, so the troublemakers instead adopted Oct. 30 as their official night to pull pranks and wreak havoc.

Candy Apples decorated in Halloween colors

Candy Apples

Credit: Phillip Novess | shutterstockCandy apples are popular Halloween treats, and the sugary fruit on a stick was handed out during the early days of trick-or-treating in North America — before concerns over unwrapped candy became an issue. Today, candy apples can be covered in caramel or chocolate with nuts, as well as in the classic, shiny red syrup.
The fusion of Celtic and Roman traditions is behind Halloween's candy-apple staple. Samhain was around the time of the Roman festival honoring Pamona, the goddess of fruit trees. The goddess is often symbolized by an apple, so the fruit became synonymous with Samhain celebrations of the harvest.

Bobbing for Apples

In ancient times, the apple was viewed as a sacred fruit that could be used to predict the future. Bobbing for apples is one of the traditional games used for fortune-telling on Halloween night. It was believed that the first person to pluck an apple from the water-filled bucket without using their hands would be the first to marry.

If the bobber lucked out and caught an apple on the first try, it meant that they would experience true love, while those who got an apple after many tries would be fickle in their romantic endeavors. Another myth was that if a girl put her bobbed apple under her pillow on Halloween night, she would dream about her future husband.

Candy Corn

The candy most synonymous with Halloween, candy corn was invented in the late 1880s and began to be mass-produced in the early 1900s. The original process for making candy corn was cumbersome and time-consuming, as each color of syrup had to be heated up in large vats and carefully poured by hand into specially shaped molds.

But the yellow, orange and white candy — meant to resemble a corn kernel — was a huge hit and remains a popular part of Halloween to this day.

Halloween or Hallowe'en (/ˌhæləˈwn, -ˈn, ˌhɑːl-/; a contraction of "All HallowsEvening"),[6] also known as Allhalloween,[7] All Hallows' Eve,[8] or All Saints' Eve,[9] is a yearly celebration observed in a number of countries on 31 October, the eve of theWestern Christian feast of All Hallows' Day. It initiates the triduum of Allhallowtide,[10] the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed believers.[11] Within Allhallowtide, the traditional focus of All Hallows' Eve revolves around the theme of using "humor and ridicule to confront the power of death."[12]
According to many scholars, All Hallows' Eve is a Christianized feast initially influenced by Celtic harvest festivals,[13][14] with possiblepagan roots, particularly the Gaelic Samhain.[8][15][16] Other scholars maintain that it originated independently of Samhain and has solely Christian roots.[17][18]
Typical festive Halloween activities include trick-or-treating (or the related "guising"), attending costume partiesdecorating, carvingpumpkins into jack-o'-lanterns, lighting bonfiresapple bobbing, visiting haunted house attractions, playing pranks, telling scary stories, and watching horror films. In many parts of the world, the Christian religious observances of All Hallows' Eve, including attending church services and lighting candles on the graves of the dead, remain popular,[19][20][21] although in other locations, these solemn customs are less pronounced in favor of a more commercialized and secularized celebration.[22][23][24] Because many Western Christian denominations encourage, although no longer require, abstinence from meat on All Hallows' Eve,[25][26] the tradition of eating certain vegetarian foods for this vigil day developed, including the consumption of applescolcannonciderpotato pancakes, and soul cakes.[26][27][28]


The word Halloween or Hallowe'en dates to about 1745[29] and is of Christian origin.[30] The word "Halloween" means "hallowed evening" or "holy evening".[31] It comes from a Scottish term for All Hallows' Eve (the evening before All Hallows' Day).[32][33] In Scots, the word "eve" is even, and this is contracted to e'en or een. Over time, (All) Hallow(s) Eve(n) evolved into Halloween. Although the phrase "All Hallows'" is found in Old English (ealra hālgena mæssedæg, all saints mass-day), "All Hallows' Eve" is itself not seen until 1556.[33][34]


Gaelic and Welsh influence

An early 20th-century Irish Hallowe'en mask displayed at theMuseum of Country Life.
Today's Halloween customs are thought to have been influenced by folk customs and beliefs from the Celtic-speaking countries, some of which have pagan roots, and others which may be rooted in Celtic Christianity.[35][36] Indeed, Jack Santino, a folklorist, writes that "the sacred and the religious are a fundamental context for understanding Halloween in Northern Ireland, but there was throughout Ireland an uneasy truce existing between customs and beliefs associated with Christianity and those associated with religions that were Irish before Christianity arrived".[37] 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", which comes from the Old Irish for "summer's end".[35] Samhain (pronounced sah-win or sow-in) was the first and most important of the four quarter days in the medieval Gaelic calendar and was celebrated in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man.[38][39] It was held on or about 31 October – 1 November and kindred festivals were held at the same time of year by the Brittonic Celts; for example Calan Gaeaf (in Wales), Kalan Gwav (in Cornwall) and Kalan Goañv (in Brittany). Samhain and Calan Gaeaf are mentioned in some of the earliest Irish and Welsh literature. The names have been used by historians to refer to Celtic Halloween customs up until the 19th century,[40] and are still the Gaelic and Welsh names for Halloween.

Snap-Apple Night, painted by Daniel Maclise in 1833, shows people feasting and playing divination games on Halloween in Ireland.
Samhain/Calan Gaeaf marked the end of the harvest season and beginning of winter or the 'darker half' of the year.[41][42] LikeBeltane/Calan Mai, it was seen as a liminal time, when the spirits or fairies (the Aos Sí) could more easily come into our world and were particularly active.[43][44] Most scholars see the Aos Sí as "degraded versions of ancient gods [...] whose power remained active in the people's minds even after they had been officially replaced by later religious beliefs". The Aos Sí were both respected and feared, with individuals often invoking the protection of God when approaching their dwellings.[45][46] At Samhain, it was believed that the Aos Sí needed to be propitiated to ensure that the people and their livestock survived the winter. Offerings of food and drink, or portions of the crops, were left for the Aos Sí.[47][48][49][50] The souls of the dead were also said to revisit their homes.[51] Places were set at the dinner table or by the fire to welcome them.[52] The belief that the souls of the dead return home on one night or day of the year seems to have ancient origins and is found in many cultures throughout the world.[53] In 19th century Ireland, "candles would be lit and prayers formally offered for the souls of the dead. After this the eating, drinking, and games would begin".[54] Throughout the Gaelic and Welsh regions, the household festivities included rituals and games intended to divine one's future, especially regarding death and marriage.[55] Nuts and apples were often used in these divination rituals. Special bonfires were lit and there were rituals involving them. Their flames, smoke and ashes were deemed to have protective and cleansing powers, and were also used for divination.[40][41] It is suggested that the fires were a kind of imitative or sympathetic magic – they mimicked the Sun, helping the "powers of growth" and holding back the decay and darkness of winter.[52][56][57] Christian minister Eddie J. Smith suggests that the bonfires were also used to scare witches of "their awaiting punishment in hell".[58]
A traditional Irish Halloween turnip (rutabaga) lantern on display in the Museum of Country Life, Ireland
In modern Ireland, Scotland, Mann and Wales, the festival included mumming and guising,[59] the latter of which goes back at least as far as the 16th century.[60] This involved people going house-to-house in costume (or in disguise), usually reciting verses or songs in exchange for food.[59] It may have come from the Christian custom of souling (see below) or it may have a Gaelic folk origin, with the costumes being a means of imitating, or disguising oneself from, the Aos Sí. In Scotland, youths went house-to-house on 31 October with masked, painted or blackened faces, often threatening to do mischief if they were not welcomed.[59] F. Marian McNeill suggests the ancient festival included people in costume representing the spirits, and that faces were marked (or blackened) with ashes taken from the sacred bonfire.[60] In parts of Wales, men went about dressed as fearsome beings called gwrachod.[59] In the late 19th and early 20th century, young people in Glamorgan and Orkney dressed as the opposite gender.[59] In parts of southern Ireland, the guisers included a hobby horse. A man dressed as a Láir Bhán (white mare) led youths house-to-house reciting verses—some of which had pagan overtones—in exchange for food. If the household donated food it could expect good fortune from the 'Muck Olla'; not doing so would bring misfortune.[61][62] Elsewhere in Europe, mumming and hobby horses were part of other yearly festivals.However, in the Celtic-speaking regions they were "particularly appropriate to a night upon which supernatural beings were said to be abroad and could be imitated or warded off by human wanderers".[59] As early as the 18th century, "imitating malignant spirits" led to playing pranks in Ireland and the Scottish Highlands.[59] Wearing costumes at Halloween spread to England in the 20th century, as did the custom of playing pranks.[59] The "traditional illumination for guisers or pranksters abroad on the night in some places was provided by turnips or mangel wurzels, hollowed out to act as lanterns and often carved with grotesque faces to represent spirits or goblins".[59] These were common in parts of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands in the 19th century,[59] as well as in Somerset (see Punkie Night). In the 20th century they spread to other parts of England and became generally known as jack-o'-lanterns.[59]

Christian influence

Today's Halloween customs are also thought to have been influenced by Christian dogma and practices derived from it. Halloween falls on the evening before the Christian holy days of All Hallows' Day (also known as All Saints' or Hallowmas) on 1 November andAll Souls' Day on 2 November, thus giving the holiday on 31 October the full name of All Hallows' Eve (meaning the evening before All Hallows' Day).[63] Since the time of the primitive Church,[64] major feasts in the Christian Church (such as ChristmasEaster andPentecost) had vigils which began the night before, as did the feast of All Hallows'.[65] These three days are collectively referred to asAllhallowtide and are a time for honoring the saints and praying for the recently departed souls who have yet to reach Heaven. All Saints was introduced in the year 609, but was originally celebrated on 13 May.[66] In 835, it was switched to 1 November (the same date as Samhain) at the behest of Pope Gregory IV.[66] Some suggest this was due to Celtic influence, while others suggest it was a Germanic idea.[66] It is also suggested that the change was made on the "practical grounds that Rome in summer could not accommodate the great number of pilgrims who flocked to it", and perhaps because of public health considerations regardingRoman Fever – a disease that claimed a number of lives during the sultry summers of the region.[67]
On All Hallows' Eve, Christians in some parts of the world visit graveyards to pray and place flowers and candles on the graves of their loved ones.[68]
By the end of the 12th century they had become holy days of obligation across Europe and involved such traditions as ringing church bells for the souls in purgatory. In addition, "it was customary for criers dressed in black to parade the streets, ringing a bell of mournful sound and calling on all good Christians to remember the poor souls."[69] "Souling", the custom of baking and sharing soul cakes for all christenedsouls,[70] has been suggested as the origin of trick-or-treating.[71] The custom dates back at least as far as the 15th century[72] and was found in parts of England, Belgium, Germany, Austria and Italy.[53] Groups of poor people, often children, would go door-to-door during Allhallowtide, collecting soul cakes, in exchange for praying for the dead, especially the souls of the givers' friends and relatives.[73][74][72] Shakespeare mentions the practice in his comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1593).[75] The custom of wearing costumes has been explicated by Prince Sorie Conteh, who wrote: "It was traditionally believed that the souls of the departed wandered the earth until All Saints' Day, and All Hallows' Eve provided one last chance for the dead to gain vengeance on their enemies before moving to the next world. In order to avoid being recognized by any soul that might be seeking such vengeance, people would don masks or costumes to disguise their identities".[76] In the Middle Ages, churches displayed the relics of martyred saints and those parishes that were too poor to have relics let parishioners dress up as the saints instead,[77] a practice that some Christians continue in Halloween celebrations today.[78] folklorist Kingsley Palmer, in addition to others, has suggested that the carved jack-o'-lantern, a popular symbol of Halloween, originally represented the souls of the dead.[79][1] On Halloween, in medieval Europe, "fires [were] lit to guide these souls on their way and deflect them from haunting honest Christian folk."[80] In addition, households in Austria, England, Ireland often had "candles burning in every room to guide the souls back to visit their earthly homes". These were known as "soul lights".[81][82][83] Many Christians in continental Europe, especially in France, acknowledged "a belief that once a year, on Hallowe'en, the dead of the churchyards rose for one wild, hideous carnival," known as the danse macabre, which has been commonly depicted in church decoration, especially on the walls of cathedrals,monasteries, and cemeteries.[84] Christopher Allmand and Rosamond McKitterick write in The New Cambridge Medieval History that "Christians were moved by the sight of the Infant Jesus playing on his mother's knee; their hearts were touched by the Pietà; and patron saints reassured them by their presence. But, all the while, the danse macabre urged them not to forget the end of all earthly things."[85] This danse macabre, which was enacted by "Christian village children [who] celebrated the vigil of All Saints" in the 16th Century, has been suggested as the predecessor of modern day costume parties on this same day.[86][87]
In parts of Britain, these customs came under attack during the Reformation as some Protestants berated purgatory as a "popish" doctrine incompatible with the notion ofpredestination. Thus, for some Nonconformist Protestants, the theology of All Hallows’ Eve was redefined; without the doctrine of purgatory, "the returning souls cannot be journeying from Purgatory on their way to Heaven, as Catholics frequently believe and assert. Instead, the so-called ghosts are thought to be in actuality evil spirits. As such they are threatening."[82] Other Protestants maintained belief in an intermediate state, known as Hades (Bosom of Abraham),[88] and continued to observe the original customs, especially souling, candlelit processions and the ringing of church bells in memory of the dead.[89][63] With regard to the evil spirits, on Halloween, "barns and homes were blessedto protect people and livestock from the effect of witches, who were believed to accompany the malignant spirits as they traveled the earth."[80] In the 19th century, in some rural parts of England, families gathered on hills on the night of All Hallows' Eve. One held a bunch of burning straw on a pitchfork while the rest knelt around him in a circle, praying for the souls of relatives and friends until the flames went out. This was known as teen'lay, derived either from the Old English tendan (meaning to kindle) or a word related to Old Irish tenlach (meaning hearth).[90] The rising popularity of Guy Fawkes Night (5 November) from 1605 onward, saw many Halloween traditions appropriated by that holiday instead, and Halloween's popularity waned in Britain, with the noteworthy exception of Scotland.[91] There and in Ireland, they had been celebrating Samhain and Halloween since at least the early Middle Ages, and the Scottish kirk took a more pragmatic approach to Halloween, seeing it as important to the life cycle and rites of passage of communities and thus ensuring its survival in the country.[91]
In France, some Christian families, on the night of All Hallows' Eve, prayed beside the graves of their loved ones, setting down dishes full of milk for them.[81] On Halloween, in Italy, some families left a large meal out for ghosts of their passed relatives, before they departed for church services.[92] In Spain, on this night, special pastries are baked, known as "bones of the holy" (SpanishHuesos de Santo) and put them on the graves of the churchyard, a practice that continues to this day.[93]

Spread to North America

The annual Greenwich VillageHalloween Parade in New York City is the world's largest Halloween parade.[94]
Lesley Bannatyne and Cindy Ott both write that Anglican colonists in the South and Catholic colonists in Maryland "recognized All Hallow's Eve in their church calendars",[95][96] although the Puritans of New England maintained strong opposition to the holiday, along with other traditional celebrations of the established Church, including Christmas.[97] Mass Irish and Scottish immigration during the 19th century increased the holiday’s celebration in the United States.[98] "In Cajun areas, a nocturnal Mass was said in cemeteries on Halloween night. Candles that had been blessed were placed on graves, and families sometimes spent the entire night at the graveside."[99] Confined to the immigrant communities during the mid-19th century, it was gradually assimilated into mainstream society and by the first decade of the 20th century it was being celebrated coast to coast by people of all social, racial and religious backgrounds.[100]
The annual New York Halloween Parade, initiated in 1974 by puppeteer and mask maker Ralph Lee of the Lower Manhattanneighborhood of Greenwich Village in New York City, is the world's largest Halloween parade and America's only major nighttime parade, attracting more than 60,000 costumed participants, 2 million in-person spectators, and a worldwide television audience of over 100 million.[94]


At Halloween, yards and public spaces may be decorated with traditionally macabre symbols including witchesskeletons,cobwebs, and headstones.
Development of artifacts and symbols associated with Halloween formed over time. Jack-o'-lanterns are traditionally carried byguisers on All Hallows' Eve in order to frighten evil spirits.[1][101] There is a popular Irish Christian folktale associated with the jack-o'-lantern,[102] which in lore, is said to represent a "soul who has been denied entry into both heaven and hell":[103]
On route home after a night's drinking, Jack encounters the Devil and tricks him into climbing a tree. A quick-thinking Jack etches the sign of the cross into the bark, thus trapping the Devil. Jack strikes a bargain that Satan can never claim his soul. After a life ofsindrink, and mendacity, Jack is refused entry to heaven when he dies. Keeping his promise, the Devil refuses to let Jack into hell and throws a live coal straight from the fires of hell at him. It was a cold night, so Jack places the coal in a hollowed out turnip to stop it from going out, since which time Jack and his lantern have been roaming looking for a place to rest.[104]
In Ireland and Scotland, the turnip has traditionally been carved during Halloween,[105][106] but immigrants to North America used the native pumpkin, which is both much softer and much larger – making it easier to carve than a turnip.[105] The American tradition of carving pumpkins is recorded in 1837[107] and was originally associated with harvest time in general, not becoming specifically associated with Halloween until the mid-to-late 19th century.[108]
The modern imagery of Halloween comes from many sources, including Christian eschatology, national customs, works of Gothic and horror literature (such as the novelsFrankenstein and Dracula) and classic horror films (such as Frankenstein and The Mummy).[109][110] Imagery of the skull, a reference to Golgotha, in the Christian tradition, serves as "a reminder of death and the transitory quality of human life" and is consequently found in memento mori and vanitas compositions;[111] skulls have therefore been commonplace in Halloween, which touches on this theme.[112] Traditionally, the back walls of churches are "decorated with a depiction of the Last Judgment, complete with graves opening and the dead rising, with a heaven filled with angels and a hell filled with devils," a motif that has permeated the observance of this triduum.[113] One of the earliest works on the subject of Halloween is from Scottish poet John Mayne, who, in 1780, made note of pranks at Halloween; "What fearfu' pranks ensue!", as well as the supernatural associated with the night, "Bogies" (ghosts), influencing Robert Burns' "Halloween" (1785).[114] Elements of the autumn season, such as pumpkins, corn husks andscarecrows, are also prevalent. Homes are often decorated with these types of symbols around Halloween. Halloween imagery includes themes of deathevil, and mythicalmonsters.[115] Black, orange, and sometimes purple are Halloween's traditional colors.

Trick-or-treating and guising

Main article: Trick-or-treating

Trick-or-treaters in Sweden
Trick-or-treating is a customary celebration for children on Halloween. Children go in costume from house to house, asking for treats such ascandy or sometimes money, with the question, "Trick or treat?" The word "trick" refers to "threat" to perform mischief on the homeowners or their property if no treat is given.[71] The practice is said to have roots in the medieval practice of mumming, which is closely related to souling(discussed above).[116] John Pymm writes that "many of the feast days associated with the presentation of mumming plays were celebrated by the Christian Church."[117] These feast days included All Hallows' Eve, Christmas, Twelfth Night and Shrove Tuesday.[118][119] Mumming, practiced in Germany, Scandinavia and other parts of Europe,[120] involved masked persons in fancy dress who "paraded the streets and entered houses to dance or play dice in silence." Their "basic narrative framework is the story of St. George and the Seven Champions of Christendom."[121]
In England, from the medieval period,[122] up until the 1930s,[123] people practiced the Christian custom of souling on Halloween, which involved groups of soulers, both Protestant and Catholic,[89] going from parish to parish, begging the rich for soul cakes, in exchange for praying for the souls of the givers and their friends.[73] In Scotland and Ireland, guising – children disguised in costume going from door to door for food or coins  – is a traditional Halloween custom, and is recorded in Scotland at Halloween in 1895 where masqueraders in disguise carrying lanterns made out of scooped out turnips, visit homes to be rewarded with cakes, fruit and money.[106] The practice of guising at Halloween in North America is first recorded in 1911, where a newspaper in Kingston, Ontario reported children going "guising" around the neighborhood.[124]

Souling was a Christian practice carried out in many English towns on Halloween and Christmas.
American historian and author Ruth Edna Kelley of Massachusetts wrote the first book length history of Halloween 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 Burns' 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.[125]
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 Halloween customs in the United States are borrowed directly or adapted from those of other countries".[126] While the first reference to "guising" in North America occurs in 1911, another reference to ritual begging on Halloween appears, place unknown, in 1915, with a third reference in Chicago in 1920.[127]
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.[128]
—Blackie Herald (LethbridgeAlberta), November 4, 1927
The thousands of Halloween postcards produced between the turn of the 20th century and the 1920s commonly show children but not trick-or-treating.[129] 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".[130] 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,[131] and the first use in a national publication occurring in 1939.[132]

An automobile trunk at a trunk-or-treat event at St. John Lutheran Church and Early Learning Center in Darien, Illinois
A popular variant of trick-or-treating, known as trunk-or-treating (or Halloween tailgaiting), occurs when "children are offered treats from the trunks of cars parked in a church parking lot," or sometimes, a school parking lot.[93][133] In a trunk-or-treat event, the trunk (boot) of each automobile is decorated with a certain theme,[134] such as those of children's literature, movies, scripture, and job roles.[135] Because the traditional style of trick-or-treating was made impossible after Hurricane Katrina, trunk-or-treating provided comfort to those whose homes were devastated.[136] Trunk-or-treating has grown in popularity due to its perception as being more safe than going door to door, a point that resonates well with parents, as well as the fact that it "solves the rural conundrum in which homes [are] built a half-mile apart".[137][138]


Main article: Halloween costume

costume party in 1890
Halloween costumes are traditionally modeled after supernatural figures such as vampires, monsters, ghosts, skeletons, witches, and devils. Over time, in the United States the costume selection extended to include popular characters from fiction, celebrities, and genericarchetypes such as ninjas and princesses.[71]
Dressing up in costumes and going "guising" was prevalent in Ireland and Scotland at Halloween by the late 19th century.[106]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.
Rev. Dr. Eddie J. Smith, in his book Halloween, Hallowed Be Thy Name, offers a religious perspective to the wearing of costumes on All Hallows' Eve, suggesting that by dressing up as creatures "who at one time caused us to fear and tremble", people are able to poke fun at Satan "whose kingdom has been plundered by our Saviour." Images of skeletons and the dead are traditional decorations used as memento mori.[139][140]


"Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF" is a fundraising program to support UNICEF,[71] a United Nations Programme that provides humanitarian aid to children in developing countries. Started as a local event in a Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood in 1950 and expanded nationally in 1952, the program involves the distribution of small boxes by schools (or in modern times, corporate sponsors like Hallmark, at their licensed stores) to trick-or-treaters, in which they can solicit small-change donations from the houses they visit. It is estimated that children have collected more than $118 million for UNICEF since its inception. In Canada, in 2006, UNICEF decided to discontinue their Halloween collection boxes, citing safety and administrative concerns; after consultation with schools, they instead redesigned the program.[141][142]

Games and other activities

In this 1904 Halloween greeting card, divination is depicted: the young woman looking into a mirror in a darkened room hopes to catch a glimpse of her future husband.
There are several games traditionally associated with Halloween parties. One common game is dunking or apple bobbing, which may be called "dooking" in Scotland[143] 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. The practice is thought by some to have derived from the Roman practices in celebration of Pomona.[71] A variant of dunking involves kneeling on a chair, holding a fork between the teeth and trying to drive 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 sticky face.
Some games traditionally played at Halloween are forms of divination. In All Hallows' Eve celebrations during the Middle Ages, these activities historically occurred only in rural areas of medieval Europe and were only done by a "rare few" as these were considered to be "deadly serious" practices.[80] 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 spouse's name.[144] 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[145] from the late 19th century and early 20th century.

A common custom includes picking and purchasing pumpkins from patches
Another game/superstition that was enjoyed in the early 1900s involved walnut shells. People would write fortunes in milk on white paper. After drying, the paper was folded and placed in walnut shells. When the shell was warmed, milk would turn brown therefore the writing would appear on what looked like blank paper. Folks would also play fortune teller. In order to play this game, symbols were cut out of paper and placed on a platter. Someone would enter a dark room and was ordered to put her hand on a piece of ice then lay it on a platter. Her "fortune" would stick to the hand. Paper symbols included: dollar sign-wealth, button-bachelorhood, thimble-spinsterhood, clothespin- poverty, rice-wedding, umbrella- journey, caldron-trouble, 4-leaf clover- good luck, penny-fortune, ring-early marriage, and key-fame.[146]
The telling of ghost stories and viewing of horror films are common fixtures of Halloween parties. Episodes of television series andHallowe'en-themed specials (with the specials usually aimed at children) are commonly aired on or before Halloween, while new horror films are often released theatrically before Halloween to take advantage of the atmosphere.

Haunted attractions

Humorous tombstones in front of a house in California
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.[147] They include haunted houses, corn mazes, and hayrides,[148] and the level of sophistication of the effects has risen as the industry has grown. Haunted attractions in the United States bring in an estimated $300–500 million each year, and draw some 400,000 customers, although press sources writing in 2005 speculated that the industry had reached its peak at that time.[147] This maturing and growth within the industry has led to technically more advanced special effects and costuming, comparable with that of Hollywood films.[149]


Pumpkins for sale during Halloween
On All Hallows' Eve, many Western Christian denomination encourage abstinence from meat, giving rise to a variety of vegetarian foods associated with this day.[28]
Because in the Northern Hemisphere Halloween comes in the wake of the yearly 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 trick-or-treating 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 in the United States.[150] While there is evidence of such incidents,[151] relative to the degree of reporting of such cases, actual cases involving malicious acts are extremely 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 candy.[152]
One custom that persists in modern-day Ireland is the baking (or more often nowadays, the purchase) of a barmbrack (Irishbáirín 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 Halloween:

Religious observances

The Vigil of All Hallows' is being celebrated at an Episcopal Christian church on Hallowe'en.
On Hallowe'en (All Hallows' Eve), in Poland, believers are taught to pray out loud as they walk through the forests in order that the souls of the dead might find comfort; in Spain, Christian priests toll their church bells in order to remind their congregants to remember the dead on All Hallows' Eve.[153] In Ireland, and among immigrants in Canada, a custom includes the Christian practice of abstinence, keeping All Hallows' Eve "as a meatless day with pancakes or Callcannon" being served instead.[154] In Mexico, on "All Hallows Eve, the children make a children's altar to invite the angelitos (spirits of dead children) to come back for a visit."[155] The Christian Church traditionally observed Hallowe'en through a vigil "when worshippers would prepare themselves with prayers and fasting prior to the feast day itself."[156] Thischurch service is known as the Vigil of All Hallows or the Vigil of All Saints;[157][158] an initiative known as Night of Light seeks to further spread the Vigil of All Hallows throughout Christendom.[159][160] After the service, "suitable festivities and entertainments" often follow, as well as a visit to the graveyard or cemetery, where flowers and candles are often placed in preparation for All Hallows' Day.[161][162] InFinland, because so many people visit the cemeteries on All Hallows' Eve to light votive candles there, they "are known as valomeri, or seas of light."[163]



Halloween Scripture Candy withgospel tract
Christian attitudes towards Halloween are diverse. In the Anglican Church, some dioceses have chosen to emphasize the Christian traditions associated with All Hallow's Eve.[164][165] Some of these practises include prayingfasting and attending worship services.[2][3][4]
Father, All-Powerful and Ever-Living God, today we rejoice in the holy men and women of every time and place. May their prayers bring us your forgiveness and love. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen. —All Hallow's Eve Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours[166]

Votive candles in the Halloween section of Wal-Mart
Other Protestant Christians also celebrate All Hallows' Eve as Reformation Day, a day to remember theProtestant Reformation, alongside All Hallow's Eve or independently from it.[167][168] This is because Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to All Saints' Church in Wittenberg on All Hallows' Eve, because hundreds of visitors would come to the church during the celebration of Allhallowtide.[169] Often, "Harvest Festivals" or "Reformation Festivals" are held on All Hallows' Eve, in which children dress up as Bible characters or Reformers.[170] In addition to distributing candy to children who are trick-or-treating on Hallowe'en, many Christians also provide gospel tracts to them. One organization, the American Tract Society, stated that around 3 million gospel tracts are ordered from them alone for Hallowe'en celebrations.[171] Others order Halloween-themed Scripture Candy to pass out to children on this day.[172]

Belizean children dressed up as Biblical figures and Christian saints
Some Christians feel concerned about the modern celebration of Halloween because they feel it trivializes – or celebrates – paganism, the occult, or other practices and cultural phenomena deemed incompatible with their beliefs.[173] Father Gabriele Amorth, an 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."[174] In more recent years, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston has organized a "Saint Fest" on Halloween.[175] 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 for free. Many Christians ascribe no negative significance to Halloween, treating it as a fun event devoted to "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.[176]
In the Roman Catholic Church, Halloween's Christian connection is cited, and Halloween celebrations are common in Catholic parochial schoolsthroughout North America and in Ireland.[177] Many fundamentalist and evangelical churches use "Hell houses", themed pamphlets, or comic-styletracts such as those created by Jack T. Chick in order to make use of Halloween's popularity as an opportunity for evangelism.[175] Some consider Halloween to be completely incompatible with the Christian faith due to its putative origins in the Festival of the Dead celebration.[178] Indeed, even though Eastern Orthodox Christians observe All Hallows' Day on the First Sunday after Pentecost, the Eastern Orthodox Church recommends the observance of Vespers and/or a Paraklesis on the Western observance of All Hallows' Eve, out of the pastoral need to provide an alternative to popular celebrations.[179]

Other religions

The reaction of non-Christian religions towards Halloween has often been mixed, ranging from stern disapproval to the allowance of participation in it. According to Alfred J. Kolatch in the Second Jewish Book of Why, in Judaism, Halloween is not permitted by Jewish Halakha because it violates Leviticus 18:3 which forbids Jews from partaking in gentile customs. Many Jews observe Yizkor, which is equivalent to the observance of Allhallowtide in Christianity, as prayers are said for both "martyrs and for one's own family."[180] Nevertheless many American Jews celebrate Halloween, disconnected from its Christian origins.[181] Reform Rabbi Jeffrey Goldwasser has said that "There is no religious reason why contemporary Jews should not celebrate Halloween" while Orthodox Rabbi Michael Broyde has argued against Jews observing the holiday.[182] Sheikh Idris Palmer, author of A Brief Illustrated Guide to Understanding Islam , has argued that Muslims should not participate in Halloween, stating that "participation in it is similar to one commemorating Christmas or Easter, or congratulating the Christians upon their prostration to the crucifix".[183] Javed Memon, a Muslim writer, has disagreed, saying that his "daughter dressing up like a British telephone booth will not destroy her faith".[184] Most Hindus do not observe All Hallows' Eve, instead remembering the dead in the festival ofPitru Paksha, during which Hindus pay homage to and perform a ceremony "to keep the souls of their ancestors at rest."[185] The celebration of the Hindu festival Diwalisometimes conflicts with the date of Halloween; but some Hindus choose to participate in the popular customs of Halloween.[186] Other Hindus, such as Soumya Dasgupta, have opposed the celebration on the grounds that Western holidays like Halloween have "begun to adversely affect our indigenous festivals."[187] Neopagans do not observe Halloween, but instead observe Samhain on 1 November,[188] although some neopagan individuals choose to participate in cultural Halloween festivities, opining the idea that one can observe both "the solemnity of Samhain in addition to the fun of Halloween." Other neopagans are opposed to the celebration of Halloween, believing that it "trivializes Samhain",[189] and "avoid Halloween, because of the interruptions from trick or treaters."[190] The Manitoban writes that "Wiccans don’t officially celebrate Halloween, despite the fact that 31 Oct. will still have a star beside it in any good Wiccan’s day planner. Starting at sundown, Wiccans celebrate a holiday known as Samhain. Samhain actually comes from old Celtic traditions and is not exclusive to Neopagan religions like Wicca. While the traditions of this holiday originate in Celtic countries, modern day Wiccans don’t try to historically replicate Samhain celebrations. Some traditional Samhain rituals are still practised but at its core, the holiday is simply a time to celebrate darkness and the dead — a possible reason why Samhain is often confused with Halloween celebrations."[188]

Around the world

A Halloween display in Saitama, Japan
Main article: Geography of Halloween
The traditions and importance of Halloween vary greatly among countries that observe it. In Scotland and Ireland, traditional Halloween customs include children dressing up in costume going "guising", holding parties, while other practices in Ireland include lighting bonfires, and having firework displays.[191][192] In Brittany children would set candles in skulls in graveyards.[193] Mass transatlantic immigration in the 19th century popularized Halloween in North America, and celebration in the United States and Canada has had a significant impact on how the event is observed in other nations. This larger North American influence, particularly in iconic and commercial elements, has extended to places such as South AmericaAustralia,[194] New Zealand,[195] (most) continental Europe, Japan, and other parts of East Asia.[196] In the Philippines, on the night of Halloween, Filipinos return to their hometowns and purchase candles and flowers,[197] in preparation for the following All Saints Day and All Souls Day (Araw ng Patay) on 1 November.[198]


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