All Hallows EveAll Saints' Eve
Numerous Western countries (see article)
Secular with roots in Christianity and paganism
Varies by region but includes trick-or-treating, ghost tours, apple bobbing, costume parties, carving jack-o'-lanterns
Samhain, All Saints Day
Halloween (or, by semantic correctness: Hallowe'en) is a holiday celebrated on October 31. It has roots in the Celtic festival of Samhain and the Christian holy day of All Saints. It is largely a secular celebration, but some Christians and pagans have expressed strong feelings about its religious overtones. Irish immigrants carried versions of the tradition to North America during Ireland's Great Famine of 1846. The day is often associated with the colors orange and black, and is strongly associated with symbols such as the jack-o'-lantern. Halloween activities include trick-or-treating, ghost tours, bonfires, costume parties, visiting haunted attractions, carving jack-o'-lanterns, reading scary stories, and watching horror movies.
Halloween has origins in the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain (Irish pronunciation; from the Old Irish samain, possibly derived from Gaulish samonios). The festival of Samhain is a celebration of the end of the harvest season in Gaelic culture, and is sometimes regarded as the "Celtic New Year".
Traditionally, the festival was a time used by the ancient Celtic pagans to take stock of supplies and slaughter livestock for winter stores. The ancient Celts believed that on October 31, now known as Halloween, the boundary between the living and the deceased dissolved, and the dead become dangerous for the living by causing problems such as sickness or damaged crops. The festivals would frequently involve bonfires, into which the bones of slaughtered livestock were thrown. Costumes and masks were also worn at the festivals in an attempt to copy the evil spirits or placate them.
Origin of name
The term Halloween is shortened from All Hallows Eve (both "even" and "eve" are abbreviations of "evening," but "Halloween" gets its "n" from "even") as it is the eve of "All Hallows' Day", which is now also known as All Saints' Day. It 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 (which had itself been the date of a pagan holiday, the Feast of the Lemures) to November 1. In the 9th century, the Church measured the day as starting at sunset, in accordance with the Florentine calendar. Although All Saints' Day is now considered to occur one day after Halloween, the two holidays were, at that time, celebrated on the same day.
On Hallows' eve, the ancient Celts would place a skeleton on their window sill to represent the departed. Originating in Europe, these lanterns were first carved from a turnip or rutabaga. Believing that the head was the most powerful part of the body, containing the spirit and the knowledge, the Celts used the "head" of the vegetable to frighten off any superstitions. Welsh, Irish and British myth are full of legends of the Brazen Head, which may be a folk memory of the widespread ancient Celtic practice of headhunting - the results of which were often nailed to a door lintel or brought to the fireside to speak their wisdom. The name jack-o'-lantern can be traced back to the Irish legend of Stingy Jack, a greedy, gambling, hard-drinking old farmer. He tricked the devil into climbing a tree and trapped him by carving a cross into the tree trunk. In revenge, the devil placed a curse on Jack, condemning him to forever wander the earth at night with the only light he had: a candle inside of a hollowed turnip. The carving of pumpkins is associated with Halloween in North America, where pumpkins were not only readily available but much larger, making them easier to carve than turnips. Many families that celebrate Halloween carve a pumpkin into a frightening or comical face and place it on their doorstep after dark. In America, the tradition of carving pumpkins is known to have preceded the Great Famine period of Irish immigration. The carved pumpkin was originally associated with harvest time in general, 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, works of Gothic and horror literature, nearly a century of work from American filmmakers and graphic artists, and a rather commercialized take on the dark and mysterious. Halloween imagery tends to involve death, evil, the occult, magic, or mythical monsters. Traditional characters include the Devil, the Grim Reaper, ghosts, ghouls, demons, witches, pumpkin-men, goblins, vampires, werewolves, zombies, mummies, skeletons, black cats, spiders, bats, owls, crows, and vultures.
Particularly in America, symbolism is inspired by classic horror films (which contain fictional figures like Frankenstein's monster and The Mummy). Elements of the autumn season, such as pumpkins, corn husks, and scarecrows, are also prevalent. Homes are often decorated with these types of symbols around Halloween.
The two main colors associated with Halloween are orange and black.
Trick-or-treating and guising
Halloween costumes are traditionally those of monsters such as ghosts, skeletons, witches, and devils. Costumes are also based on themes other than traditional horror, such as those of characters from television shows, movies, and other pop culture icons.
BIGresearch conducted a survey for the National Retail Federation in the United States and found that 53.3% of consumers planned to buy a costume for Halloween 2005, spending $38.11 on average (up $10 from the year before). They were also expected to spend $4.96 billion in 2006, up significantly from just $3.3 billion the previous year.
Typical Halloween scene in Dublin, Ireland.
Games and other activities
In this Halloween greeting card from 1904, divination is depicted: the young woman looking into a mirror in a darkened room hopes to catch a glimpse of the face of her future husband.
There are several games traditionally associated with Halloween parties. One common game is dunking or apple bobbing, in which apples float in a tub or a large basin of water the participants must use their teeth to remove an apple from the basin (to make things even more challenging, try removing the stems from the apples). A variant of dunking involves kneeling on a chair, holding a fork between the teeth and trying to drop the fork into an apple. Another common game involves hanging up treacle or syrup-coated scones by strings; these must be eaten without using hands while they remain attached to the string, an activity that inevitably leads to a very sticky face. Kids can play a "kill the witch game" by drawing and coloring a witch on a large piece of paper, cutting out circles from black construction paper and sticking tape on the back to make the witch's warts. Then blindfold the players, spin them around three times and have 'em pin ugly warts on the witch! The player who sticks the wart closest to the nose wins.