Halloween or Hallowe'en is a tradition celebrated on the night of October 31, most notably by children dressing in costumes and going door-to-door collecting sweets, fruit, and other things. Apart from this trick-or-treating, there are many other traditional Halloween activities. Some of these include costume parties, watching horror films, going to "haunted" houses, and traditional autumn activities such as hayrides, some of these even "haunted". Anoka, Minnesota is the self-proclaimed Halloween Capital of the World. The whole city is decorated and many people decorate their houses and yards. There are three parades each year (a kiddie parade, a night parade and the grand day parade), as well as various other themed activities that take place around Halloween. The festivities originally started in Anoka in 1920 as an attempt to keep the younger people in town from engaging in vandalism. The largest outdoor Halloween event in America is New York's Village Halloween Parade, which takes place on Halloween night in Greenwich Village. A more complete coverage of Halloween customs can be found at Halloween traditions.
Jack-o'-lanterns are often carved from
pumpkins into scary faces
Halloween originated under a different name ("samhain") as a Pagan festival among the Celts of Ireland and Great Britain with mainly Irish and Scots and other immigrants transporting versions of the tradition to North America in the nineteenth century. Most other Western countries have embraced Halloween as a part of American pop culture in the late twentieth century.
Halloween is celebrated in most parts of the Western world, most commonly in the United States, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Peru, and with increasing popularity in Australia and New Zealand. In recent years, Halloween has also been celebrated in parts of Western Europe.
The term Halloween, and its older rendering Hallowe'en, is shortened from All-hallow-even, as it is the evening of/before "All Hallows' Day" (also known as "All Saints' Day"). The holiday was a day of religious festivities in various northern European Pagan traditions, until Popes Gregory III and Gregory IV moved the old Christian feast of All Saints' Day from May 13 to November 1. In the ninth century, the Church measured the day as starting at sunset, in accordance with the Florentine calendar. Although we now consider All Saints' (or Hallows') day to be on the day after Halloween, they were, at that time, considered to be the same day.
In Ireland, the name was All Hallows' Eve (often shortened to Hallow Eve), and though seldom used today, it is still a well-accepted label, albeit somewhat esoteric. The festival is also known as Samhain or Oíche Shamhna to the Irish, Samhuin in Scottish Gaelic, Calan Gaeaf to the Welsh, Allantide to the Cornish and Hop-tu-Naa to the Manx. Halloween is also called Pooky Night in some parts of Ireland, presumably named after the púca, a mischievous spirit.
Many European cultural traditions hold that Halloween is one of the liminal times of the year when spirits can make contact with the physical world and when magic is most potent (e.g. Catalan mythology about witches, Irish tales of the Sídhe).
Snap-Apple Night by Daniel Maclise portrays a Halloween party in Blarney, Ireland, in 1832. The young people on the left play various divination games about future romance, while children on the right bob for apples. A couple in the center play snap-apple with an apple skewered on tongs hanging from a string
Halloween around the world
Halloween is popular in Ireland, where it is said to have originated, and is known in Irish as "Oíche Shamhna" or "Samhain Night". The Celts celebrated Halloween as Samhain (pronounced /'saun?/), "End of Summer", a pastoral and agricultural "fire festival" or feast, when the dead revisited the mortal world, and large communal bonfires would be lit to ward off evil spirits. (See Origin: Celtic observation of Samhain below.) In Ireland they continued to practice their deep-rooted, ancient pagan rites well after the arrival of Christianity in the middle of the sixth century. Pope Gregory IV standardized the date of All Saints' Day, or All Hallows' Day, on November 1 to the entire Western Church in 835. Since the day was reckoned to start at sunset, this coincided exactly with Samhain. Although there is no primary documentation that Gregory was aware of or reacting to Samhain among the Celts in the selection of this date, it is consistent with the then practice of leaving pagan festivals and buildings intact (e.g. the Pantheon) and overlaying a Christian meaning. While Celts were happy to move their All Saints' Day from its earlier date of the 20th of April, ("...the Fe-lire of Oengus and the Martyrology of Tallaght prove that the early medieval churches celebrated the feast of All Saints upon 20 April.") they were unwilling to give up their existing festival of the dead and continued to celebrate Samhain.
Unfortunately, there is frustratingly little primary documentation of how Halloween was celebrated in pre-industrial Ireland. Historian Nicholas Rogers has written,
On Halloween night in present-day Ireland, adults and children dress up as creatures from the underworld (ghosts, ghouls, zombies, witches, goblins), light bonfires, and enjoy spectacular fireworks displays (despite the fact that such displays are usually illegal). The children walk around knocking on the doors of neighbours, in order to gather fruit, nuts, and sweets for the Halloween festival. Salt was once sprinkled in the hair of the children to protect against evil spirits.
The houses are decorated by carving pumpkins or turnips into scary faces and other decorations. Lights are then placed inside the carved head to help light and decorate. The traditional Halloween cake in Ireland is the barmbrack which is a fruit bread. Each member of the family gets a slice. Great interest is taken in the outcome as there is a piece of rag, a coin and a ring in each cake. If you get the rag then your financial future is doubtful. If you get the coin then you can look forward to a prosperous year. Getting the ring is a sure sign of impending romance or continued happiness. Usually these days only the ring is included in commercially made barn bracs.
Games are played, such as ducking/bobbing for apples, where apples, monkey nuts (peanuts) and other nuts and fruit and some small coins are put into a basin of water. The apples and monkey nuts float. Coins are harder to catch as they sink. Everyone takes turns catching as much can be caught using only the mouth and no hands. In some households the coins are pushed into the fruit for the children to "earn" as they catch each apple. The Scottish and English have taken this tradition into their customs with a game named ducking, after the fast movement of a person's head under the water to try to get something without having the head under the water for too long. Another game involves trying to eat an apple, hung from the ceiling on a string, without using the hands.
Children also have a week-long break from school for Halloween, and the last Monday in October is a public holiday given for Halloween even though they quite often don't fall on the same day. See Public holidays in the Republic of Ireland.
As of 2006, several County and City Councils around Ireland have imposed bans on bonfires, citing apparent health and safety issues.
Scotland, having a shared Gaelic culture and language with Ireland, has celebrated the festival of Samhain robustly for centuries. Robert Burns portrayed the varied customs in his poem "Hallowe'en" (1785).
Halloween, known in Scottish Gaelic as "Oidhche Shamhna", consists chiefly of children going door to door "guising", dressed in a disguise (often as a witch or ghost) and offering entertainment of various sorts. If the entertainment is enjoyed, the children are rewarded with gifts of sweets, fruits, or money. There is no Scottish 'trick or treat' tradition; on the contrary, 'trick or treat' may have its origins in the guising customs.
In Scotland a lot of folklore, including that of Halloween, revolves around the belief in faeries. Children dress up in costume and carry around a "scary" face carved into a swede or turnip (rutabaga) to frighten away the evil faeries.
Popular children's games played on this evening include "dookin" for apples (retrieving an apple from a bucket of water using only one's mouth), and eating, while blindfolded, a treacle-coated scone hanging from the ceiling on a piece of string.
England and Wales
The Anglo-Saxon invasions of the 5th and 6th centuries AD pushed the native Celts north and westward in Britain, to present-day Wales, Cornwall and northern England, taking the festival of All Hallows Eve with them. All Saints Day (All Hallows Day) became fixed on the 1st of November in 835, and All Souls Day on the 2nd of November circa 998. On All Souls Eve, families sat up, and little "soul cakes" were eaten by everyone. At the stroke of midnight there was silence with candles burning in every room to guide the souls back to visit their earthly homes and a glass of wine on the table to refresh them. The tradition continued in some areas of northern England as late as the 1930s, with children going from door to door "souling" for cakes or money, by singing a song. The English Reformation in the 16th century de-emphasised holidays like All Hallows Day and its associated eve. With the rise of Guy Fawkes Night celebrations in 17th century England, many Halloween traditions, especially the building of bonfires, were transferred to 5 November. Halloween celebrations in the UK were repopularised in the 1980s with influence from America, and saw the reintroduction of traditions such as pumpkin faces and trick-or-treat. In the five years between 2001 and 2006 spending in the UK for Halloween rose tenfold from £12m to £120m, according to Bryan Roberts from industry analysts Planet Retail, making Halloween the third most profitable holiday for supermarkets.
Today, adults often dress up to attend fancy dress parties, pubs and clubs on Halloween night.
In various parts of England there is a similar festival called holy day which falls on the 4 November. Children play tricks on adults which range from the minor to more serious such as taking garden gates off their hinges on this night. The gates were also often thrown into ponds, or taken a long way away. In recent years these tricks have, in some cases, turned into severe acts of vandalism and criminal damage including street fires and destruction of private property.
Throughout England, as is common in much of the British Isles, children carve faces or designs into hollowed-out pumpkins. Usually illuminated from within, the lanterns are then displayed in windows in keeping with the night's theme of fright and horror. (See article Jack-o'-lantern.) Before the introduction of pumpkin carving from the USA, it was usual to carve large swedes (aka neeps or yellow turnips) and this is still done in some areas.
Bobbing for apples is a well-established custom on Halloween, synonymous with the Scottish "dukin". Apples were put into a barrel that had been filled to the brim with water and an individual would have to catch an apple by catching them in their mouth without using their hands. Once an apple had been caught, it was traditional to peel the apple and toss it over one's shoulder in the hope that the strips would fall into the shape of a letter. Whatever letter the peelings arranged into would be the first initial of the participant's true love. According to another superstition, the longer the peel, the longer the peeler's life would be. Some say that the first to get an apple would be the first to marry.
Other festivities include fireworks, recounting of ghost stories, and playing children's games such as "hide and seek". Apple tarts may be baked with a coin hidden inside, and nuts of all types are traditional Halloween fare. Bolder children may play a game called "thunder and lightning", which involves knocking (like thunder) on a neighbour's door, then running away (like lightning). This game is known as "knock-door-run", "knock-and-run", "knock-knock-zoom-zoom", "ding-dong-ditch", or "postman's knock" in other parts of the country, and is also played on Mischief Night
Tradition is slowly changing, however. The majority of children today will arrive at a door and intone "trick or treat" for money and sweets to be given out. In Northern Ireland bonfires are becoming less commonly lit for Halloween.
There has been increasing concern about the potential for anti-social behaviour caused at Halloween, particularly as caused by older teens. Cases of houses being attacked by "egg-bombing" (especially when the occupants do not give children money or gifts) have been reported, and the BBC reports that for Halloween 2006 police forces have stepped up patrols to respond to such trouble making.
Halloween did not become a holiday in America until the 19th century, where lingering Puritan tradition meant even Christmas was scarcely observed before the 1800s. North American almanacs of the late 18th and early 19th centuries make no mention of Halloween in their lists of holidays. The transatlantic migration of nearly two million Irish following the Irish Potato Famine (1845–1849) brought the holiday and its customs to America. Scottish emigration from the British Isles, primarily to Canada before 1870 and to the United States thereafter, brought that country's own version of the holiday to North America.
When the holiday was observed in 19th-century America, it was generally in three ways. Scottish-American and Irish-American societies held dinners and balls that celebrated their heritages, with perhaps a recitation of Robert Burns' poem "Halloween" or a telling of Irish legends, much as Columbus Day celebrations were more about Italian-American heritage than Columbus. Home parties would center around children's activities, such as bobbing for apples and various divination games, particularly about future romance. And finally, pranks and mischief were common on Halloween.
The commercialization of Halloween in America did not begin until the 20th century, beginning perhaps with Halloween postcards, which were most popular between 1905 and 1915, and featured hundreds of different designs. Dennison Manufacturing Company, which published its first Hallowe'en catalog in 1909, and the Beistle Company were pioneers in commercially made Halloween decorations, particularly die-cut paper items. German manufacturers specialised in Halloween figurines that were exported to America in the period between the two world wars.
There is little primary documentation of masking or costuming on Halloween in America, or elsewhere, before 1900. Mass-produced Halloween costumes did not appear in stores until the 1930s, and trick-or-treating became a fixture of the holiday in the 1950s, although commercially made masks were available earlier.
In the United States, Halloween has become the sixth most profitable holiday (after Christmas, Mother's Day, Valentines Day, Easter, and Father's Day) for retailers. In the 1990s many manufacturers began producing a larger variety of Halloween yard decorations; prior to this a majority of decorations were homemade. Some of the most popular yard decorations are jack-o'-lanterns, scarecrows, witches, orange and purple string lights, inflatable decorations such as spiders, pumpkins, mummies, vampires and other monstrous creatures, and animatronic window and door decorations. Other popular decoration are foam tombstones and gargoyles. The sale of candy and costumes are also extremely important during this time period. Halloween is marketed not just to children but also to adults. According to the National Retail Federation, the most popular Halloween costumes for adults are, in order: witch, pirate, vampire, cat, and clown. On many college campuses, Halloween is a major celebration, with the Friday and Saturday nearest October 31 hosting many costume parties.
The National Confectioners Association reported, in 2005, that 80 percent of adults planned to give out candy to trick-or-treaters, and that 93 percent of children planned to go trick-or-treating.
Anoka, Minnesota, the self-proclaimed "Halloween Capital of the World," celebrates with a large civic parade. Salem, Massachusetts, also has laid claim to the title, though Salem has tried to separate itself from its history of persecuting witchcraft. Despite that, the city does see a great deal of tourism surrounding the Salem witch trials, especially around Halloween. Nearby Keene, New Hampshire, hosts the annual Pumpkin Fest each October which previously held the record for most lit jack-o'-lanterns at one time and place.
Francesca in ghoul make-up fancy dress
New York City 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 two million spectators and participants as well as roughly four 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 many towns and cities, trick-or-treaters are welcomed by lighted porch lights and jack-o'-lanterns. In some large or crime-ridden cities, however, trick-or-treating is discouraged, forbidden, or restricted to staged trick-or-treating events within one or more of the cities' shopping malls, in order to prevent potential acts of violence against trick-or-treaters. Even where crime is not an issue, many towns in the US have established specific hours where trick-or-treating is permitted, e.g. 5-7 pm or 5-8 pm, to discourage late-night trick-or-treating.
Those living in the country may hold Halloween parties, often with a bonfire or, in some years, the older Irish custom of building two bonfires, with the celebrants passing between them. These parties usually involve games (often traditional games like bobbing for apples, searching for candy in a similar manner to Easter egg hunting, or a snipe hunt), a haunted hayride (often accompanied by a scary story and one or more masked and costumed people hiding in the dark to jump out and scare the riders), and treats (usually a bag of candy and/or homemade treats). Scary movies may also be watched. Normally, the children are picked up by their parents at pre-determined times. However, it is not uncommon for these parties to include sleepovers.
Trick-or-treating may end early at night, but the nightlife thrives in many urban areas on Halloween. Halloween costume parties are also an opportunity for young adults to get together and share a keg and a good time. The local bars are also frequented by people wearing Halloween masks and risqué costumes. Many bars and restaurants hold Costume Contests to attract customers to their establishment.
In areas with a large Mexican population, Halloween has often merged with celebrations of "Dia De Los Muertos", the Day of the Dead.
Further south, in Mexico, Halloween is primarily a 21st century phenomenon and also mostly confined to its largest urban areas. These celebrations have obviously been influenced by the American style and traditions which include children disguising themselves and visiting the houses of their neighbourhood in search primarily for candy. Though the "Trick or Treat" motif is also used, tricks are not generally played on those houses not giving away candy. Older crowds of teenagers and adults will sometimes organise Halloween themed parties though the observance of the Halloween party on the night of the 31st is sometimes changed for the nearest available weekend.
Halloween in Mexico also starts off three days of consecutive holidays, as it is followed by All Saint's Day and then the Day of the Dead or the "Día de los Muertos". This might explain why some of the first explanations given to children on the holiday followed a more traditional, Catholic & Mexican theme. The explanation (which is also sometimes used by groups opposed to Halloween to discredit the holiday) is that during October 31 all of the evil spirits are welcomed into this world. Meanwhile, on November 1 all of the "saintly" spirits make a visit to this world and then on November 2 all of the spirits of those who have passed away. It is rare to find someone in Mexico that will be able to identify Halloween's primarily pagan roots and most of the population will actually give the U.S.A. credit for the holiday.
Australia and New Zealand
In the southern hemisphere, spring is in full force at the end of October, and the days are rapidly growing longer and brighter. This does not mesh well with the traditional Celtic spirit of Halloween, which relies on the atmosphere of the encroaching darkness of winter.
Despite participation levels being significantly low in the last decade, this has significantly decreased, and Halloween has become a welcome celebration to some residents. However, a visitor from overseas expecting to enjoy an Australian or New Zealand Halloween would need to prepare in advance, since most events are private parties, or trick or treaters usually stay in their own neighbourhoods for safety reasons. Trick-or-treating, is generally practised by pre-arrangement with nearby neighbours. If trick or treaters do go round it is mainly to cause destruction by egging houses that refuse to give sweets, a similar issue in the US on Halloween, and recently in the United Kingdom. These vandals also target school buildings or places of worship. Some in Australia feel that this is a distinctly American custom and refuse to have anything to do with what they feel is senseless Americanism.
From an Irish-Australian perspective, Halloween has been celebrated every year by some sections of the Irish community in Australia since at least the early 1950s. Many Australians believe that Halloween in Australia has come about because of the influence of American culture, including American expatriates in Australia, without fully realising the Celtic roots of the festival. The opposite seasons in the southern hemisphere combined with British suppression of Irish culture may have been responsible for Halloween not becoming established in Australia. Many older Irish-Australians have stated that Halloween celebrations were held at Irish pubs and clubs and within Irish enclaves in Australia before television broadcast began in 1956. The recognition of Australia's convict past and the corresponding rise of the Irish-Australian identity in the 1970s is a possible source of Halloween celebrations in contemporary Australia.
In some parts of the British West Indies, there are celebrations in commemoration of Guy Fawkes Night that occur during and around the time of Halloween. These celebrations include using firecrackers, blowing bamboo joints and performing other fiery activities.
On the island of Bonaire, all the children of a town gather together in a group, and unlike most places, instead of trick-or-treating at people's houses, they trick-or-treat for sweets in the town shops.
Halloween had never been celebrated in Malta until recently, with its popularity increasing thanks to dozens of costume parties being organized on Halloween night, mostly for teenagers and young adults. Trick-or-treating is still virtually unheard of.
In other regions, Halloween has become popular in the context of US- American pop culture. Both Catholic and Protestant Christians see the loss of the celebration of the All Hallows and Reformation Day, respectively, or regional festivals at the same time (St Martin's Day; however, media and commerce try to boost some parts of the festival, like pumpkins, posters and costumes.
The carved pumpkin, 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 was first named and 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.
The jack-o'-lantern element of the Halloween tradition can be traced back to the Irish story of Stingy Jack, a greedy, gambling, hard drinking old farmer who tricked the devil into climbing a tree and trapped him by carving a cross into the trunk of the tree. In revenge, the devil places a curse on old Jack which dooms him to wander the earth at night for eternity. For centuries, this bed time parable was told by Irish parents to their children. At Halloween time, the children carved out turnips, placing a candle inside to symbolise Jack's curse. But in America the tradition of carving pumpkins is known to have preceded the Great Famine period of Irish immigration, and the tradition of carving vegetable lanterns may also have been brought over by the Scottish or English; documentation is unavailable to establish when or by whom. The carved pumpkin was associated generally with harvest time in America, and did not become specifically associated with Halloween until the mid to late 19th century.
The imagery surrounding Halloween is largely an amalgamation of the Halloween season itself, nearly a century of work from American filmmakers and graphic artists, and a rather commercialised take on the dark and mysterious. This art generally involves death, magic, or mythical monsters. Commonly-associated Hallowe'en characters include ghosts, ghouls, witches, vampires, bats, owls, crows, vultures, haunted houses, pumpkinmen, black cats, spiders, goblins, zombies, mummies, skeletons, werewolves, and demons. Particularly in America, symbolism is inspired by classic horror films, which contain fictional figures like Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, The Wolf Man, and The Mummy. Homes 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.
The use of these colors is largely a result of advertising for the holiday that dates back for over a century. They tend to be associated with various parts of Halloween's imagery.
Elements of the autumn season, such as pumpkins and scarecrows, are also reflected in symbols of Halloween.
Trick-or-treating and guising
The main event of modern US-style Halloween is trick-or-treating, in which children dress up in 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 guising 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 candies, miniature chocolate bars, and sometimes even soda pop. Some American homes will 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 Ireland, great bonfires were lit throughout the breadth of the land. Young children in their guises were gladly received by the neighbors with some "fruit, apples and nuts and of course sweets" 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.
In England, trick or treating does take place, particularly in working class neighbourhoods. On the whole, however, it is frowned upon as at best a nuisance and at worst a menacing form of begging. In some areas households have started to put decorations on the front door to indicate 'trick-or-treaters' are welcome, the idea being that 'trick-or-treaters' don't approach a house that isn't 'participating'. 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 neighbors was also done once upon a time.
Typical Halloween costumes have traditionally been monsters such as vampires, ghosts, witches, and devils. 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 politician (in 2004, for example, George W. Bush and John Kerry were both popular costumes in America). In 2001, after the September 11 attacks, for example, costumes of, firefighters, police officers, and United States military personnel became popular. 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.
"'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. It is estimated that children have collected more than $119 million (US) for UNICEF since its inception. In 2006 UNICEF discontinued their Halloween collection boxes in parts of the world, citing safety and administrative concerns.
BIGresearch conducted a survey for the National Retail Federation in the USA and found that 53.3% of consumers planned to buy a costume for Halloween 2005, spending $38.11 on average (up 10 dollars from the year before). They were also expected to spend $4.96 billion in 2006, up significantly from just $3.29 billion the previous year.
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, bonfire parties, staying home to give out candy, listening to Halloween music, watching horror movies or scaring people.
Games and other activities
There are several games traditionally associated with Halloween parties. The most common is dooking or 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. 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 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 Puicíní (pronounced "poocheeny"), 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 emigration, a ring shows marriage, a set of Rosary beads means the person will take Holy Orders (becoming a nun or a priest). 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. An Irish and 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. This tradition has also survived among Irish and Scottish immigrants in the rural United States.
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.
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. One of the largest Halloween attractions in the U.S.A. is Knott's Scary Farm in California, which features re-themed amusement park rides and a dozen different walkthrough mazes, plus hundreds of costumed roving performers.
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 rumors 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 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. See also king cake
Other foods associated with the holiday:
Gina gets a bobbing apple
Origin: Celtic observation of Samhain
According to what can be reconstructed of the beliefs of the ancient Celts, the bright half of the year ended around November 1 or on a Moon-phase near that date, or at the time of first frost. The day is referred to in modern Gaelic as Samhain ("Sow-in" or alternatively "Sa-ven", meaning: End of the Summer). After the adoption of the Roman calendar with its fixed months, the date began to be celebrated independently of the Moon's phases.
As October 31st is the last day of the bright half of the year, the next day also meant the beginning of Winter, which the Celts often associated with human death, and with the slaughter of livestock to provide meat for the coming Winter. The Celts also believed that on October 31, 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 "Sídhe," as well as of the dead, was accessible through burial mounds. These mounds opened at two times during the year, Samhain and Beltane, 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 and priestesses (druids), and the accurate prediction of how much food would be needed to sustain the people before the next harvest. They believed that the presence of spirits would aid in the ability to make accurate predictions about the coming year.
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 be prevented from crossing and threatening the community.
Like most observances around this season, warmth and comfort were emphasised, indulgence was not. Stores of preserved food were needed to last through the winter, not for parties.
Samhain possibly mistaken as New Year
Popular literature over the last century has given birth to the near universal assumption that Samhain/Hallowe'en was the "Celtic New Year". However, recent research by some historians has begun to scrutinise this assertion. Historian Ronald Hutton, in his study of the folk calendar of the British Isles writes that there are no references which attest to this usage earlier than the 18th century, neither in church nor civic records. Although it may be correct to refer to Samhain as "Summer's End", this point of descent into the year's darkness may require better proof for us to cite this "end" as also being a "beginning". Whether or not the ancient Celts considered Samhain to be the beginning of the new year, or just one point in the cycle of the seasons, the living traditions in the Celtic lands and the diaspora do regard it as the "Celtic New Year" and it continues to be celebrated as such. For instance, the calendars produced by the Celtic League begin and end at Samhain/Halloween.
Norse Elven Blót
In the old Norse religion an event believed to occur around the same time of the year as Halloween was the álfablót (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.
Religious perspectives and controversies
Christian attitudes towards Halloween are quite diverse. The fact that All Saints Day and Halloween are on two consecutive days has left some Christians uncertain of how they should react towards this holiday. In the Anglican Church some dioceses have chosen to focus more on the Christian traditions of All Saints Day, while some Protestants celebrate the holiday as Reformation Day, a day of remembrance and prayers for unity. Celtic Christians may have Samhain services that focus on the cultural aspects of the holiday, in the belief that many ancient Celtic customs are "compatible with the new Christian religion. Christianity embraced the Celtic notions of family, community, the bond among all people, and respect for the dead. Throughout the centuries, pagan and Christian beliefs intertwine in a gallimaufry (hodgepodge) of celebrations from October 31st through November 5th, all of which appear both to challenge the ascendancy of the dark and to revel in its mystery."
The secular celebration of Halloween may loom larger in contemporary imagination than does All Saints Day. Some Christian churches commonly offer a fall festival or harvest-themed alternative to Halloween. Most Christians ascribe no significance to Halloween, treating it as a purely secular entity devoted to celebrating "imaginary spooks" and handing out candy. Celebrating Halloween is common in Catholic parochial schools throughout North America, and in Ireland, the Catholic Church sees it as a "harmless ancient custom." Father Gabriele Amorth, a Vatican-appointed exorcist in Rome, has said, "[I]f 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." Most Christians hold the view that the tradition is far from being "satanic" in origin or practice and that it 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.
A response among some fundamentalist Christians in recent years has been the use of Hell houses or themed pamphlets (such as those of Jack T. Chick) which attempt to make use of Halloween as an opportunity for evangelism. Some consider Halloween to be completely incompatible with the Christian faith, due to "its preoccupation with the occult in symbols, masks and costumes," its origin as a Pagan "festival of the dead", and the fact that it is also observed, albeit in a non-traditional form, by Satanists. The tradition of discouraging Pagan celebrations and focusing attention on Christianity can be traced back to the eighth century when Pope Gregory III designated November 1st as All Saints' Day, a time to honor saints and martyrs. At this time, since the day started at sunset, this coincided exactly with the pagan festival. Some Christians believe that All Saints was moved to November 1 "to counteract the ghouls, demons, and devils that were celebrated." In more recent years, The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston has organised a "Saint Fest" on the holiday.
People of many diverse religions, or no religion at all, may be concerned about the vandalism and destructive behavior that can occur on the holiday. Halloween is a prime time for vandalism, sometimes targeting sites considered sacred such as places of worship or cemeteries.
Objections to celebrating Halloween are not always limited to those of the Abrahamic religions. Some Wiccans feel that the tradition is offensive to "real witches" for promoting a stereotypical caricature of a wicked witch. Some Neopagans and Wiccans also object to Halloween because they perceive it to be a "vulgarised, commercialised mockery" of the original Samhain rituals. However other Neopagans, perhaps most of them, see it as a harmless holiday in which some of the old traditions are celebrated by the mainstream culture, albeit in a different way.
Halloween is frequently mentioned as an important date in the "Harry Potter" book series by J.K. Rowling, whose central themes are wizardry and magic. Also, "The Nightmare Before Christmas", created by "Tim Burton", has a whole lot to do with Halloween as well as Christmas.
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