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Alternate meanings: Halloween or Hallowe'en is a holiday celebrated in much of the Western world on the night of October 31, the night before All Saints Day (Nov. 1), hence its alternative name as All Saints Eve or All Hallows' Eve. Long surviving in Ireland, it was brought to the United States by Irish emigrants in the 19th century.

Table of contents
1 Symbols
2 Jack O'Lantern
3 Trick or Treating
4 Parties
5 Baking
6 Cultural history
7 Religious Viewpoints
8 External links


Halloween is a holiday that is based around embracing scary things, particularly those involving death, the undead, "evil" magic, and mythical monsters. It is a liminal or threshold occasion, when the distinctions between the daylight world of reason and the spectral nightworld are blurred.

Commonly-associated Halloween "characters" include ghosts, witches, black cats, goblins, banshees, zombies, and demons, as well as certain literary figures such as Dracula and Frankenstein's monster.

Black and orange are the traditional colors of Halloween. There are also elements of the autumn season reflected in symbols of Halloween, such as pumpkins and scarecrows.

Jack O'Lantern

The jack o'lantern is one of Halloween's most prominent symbols. In Britain and Ireland, a turnip was, and sometimes still is, used but emigrants to America quickly adopted the pumpkin since it is much easier to carve. Families that celebrate Halloween will carve a pumpkin into a scary or comical face, and place a candle inside the hollowed out shell, creating a crude lantern. This is then placed on the home's doorstep on Halloween night in order to scare evil spirits away.

Trick or Treating

The main event of Halloween is trick-or-treating, or guising, in which children dress up in costume disguises, and go door-to-door in their neighbourhood, ringing the bell and yelling "trick or treat!" or "Halloween apples!" The occupant of the house then gives the child some small candies, miniature chocolate bars or other individually wrapped treats. Children can often accumulate quite a lot of treats on Halloween night, filling up entire pillow cases or shopping bags.

Typical Halloween costumes have traditionally been monsters such as vampires, ghosts, witches, and devils. In recent years however, more contemporary costume ideas have also become popular, such as dressing up as a character from a popular TV show or movie. It's not uncommon for Halloween participants to celebrate by wearing costumes related to a specific theme or time. In 2001, after the September 11 Attacks, for example, costumes of firefighters, police officers, and US military personnel became popular amongst children.

Trick or Treating usually ends when a child enters his or her teenage years. Teenagers and adults instead often celebrate Halloween with costume parties or other social get-togethers.


There are several traditional games associated with Halloween parties. The most common is bobbing for apples, in which a tub or a large basin is filled with water in which appless float. The participants must remove an apple from the basin using only their mouths. Naturally everyone gets wet. 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.Another game, Púicíní (pronounced "pook-eeny"), a form of "Blindfold", is played in Ireland. A blindfolded person was seated in front of a table on which are placed several saucers. The saucers are shuffled and the seated person then choses one by touch. The contents of the saucer determine the person's life for the following year. A saucer containing earth means someone known to the player will die during the next year. A saucer containing water foretells travel, a coin means new wealth, a bean means poverty, etc.


A Halloween custom which has survived unchanged to this day in Ireland is the baking, or, more often nowadays, the purchase of a barm brack (Ir. "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 over the following year.

Cultural history

Although modern Halloween is a secular holiday, cultural historians recognize its connections with the pagan Celtic season of Samhain. Like other feasts in the Christian year, the earlier observations were Christianized as the feast of All Saints. Roman Catholics object. They localize the revised autumnal date for All Saints in Germany, and identify the celebration of All Saints with feasts of groups of martyrs, in disant centers such as Antioch.

Celtic observation of Samhain

Its earliest roots are found in the Druidic holiday of death which took place each year on October 31, in the season of Samhain. After the crops were harvested, Druids in Ireland and Britain would light fires and offer sacrifices of crops and animals. As they danced around the fires, the season of the sun passed and the season of darkness would begin. When the morning of November 1 arrived, the Druids would give an ember from their fires to each family who would then take them home to start new cooking fires. These fires were believed to keep the homes warm and free from evil spirits, as it was considered a time of year when the veils were thin between worlds. A three-day festival called Samhain (pronounced "sow-inn") followed. In Ireland it was believed to be the night on which the invisible "gates" between this world and the Other World were opened and free movement between both worlds was possible. In the Other World lived the immortal "Sidhe" (pronounced "shee"), the female members of whom were called beán sidhe or banshees.

Bonfires played a large part in the festivities and hundreds of fires are lit each year in Ireland on Hallowe'en night. Villagers cast the bones of the slaughtered cattle upon the flames. The word "bonfire" is thought to derive from these "bone fires." With the bonfire ablaze, the villagers extinguished all other fires. Each family then solemnly lit their hearth from the common flame, thus bonding the families of the village together.

Like most Celtic festivals, it was celebrated on a number of levels. Materially speaking it was the time for gathering in food for the long winter months ahead, bringing people and their livestock in to their winter quarters. To be alone and missing at this dangerous time was to expose yourself and your spirit to the perils of imminent winter. In present times the importance of this part of the festival has diminished for most people. From the point of view of a tribal people for whom a bad season meant facing a long winter of famine in which many would not survive to the spring, it was paramount.

From an astrological perspective, the rising of Pleiades, the winter stars, heralds the supremacy of night over day, the dark half ruled by the realms of the moon.

In the three days preceding the Samhain month the Sun God, Lugh, maimed at Lughnassadh, dies by the hand of his Tanist (his other self), the Lord of Misrule. Lugh traverses the boundaries of the worlds on the first day of Samhain. His Tanist is a miser and though he shines brightly in the winter skies he gives no warmth and does not temper the breath of the Crone, Cailleach Bheare, the north wind. In this may be discerned the ageless battle between the light and dark and the cyclic nature of life and the seasons.

Christian views

Modern Christian writers have conjured up a Druidical belief that on the eve of this festival a 'Samhain, lord of death" (a modern invention), called together the wicked spirits that within the past 12 months had been condemned to inhabit the bodies of animals (a most un-Celtic transmigration of souls). During the night the great shield of Skathach was lowered, allowing the barriers between the worlds to fade and the forces of evil to invade the realms of order, the material world conjoining with the world of the dead. At this time ghosts, witches, hobgoblins, black cats, fairies and demons of all kinds roamed amongst the living. The dead could return to the places where they had lived and food and entertainment were provided to exorcize them. If food and shelter were not provided, these spirits would cast spells and cause havoc towards those failing to fulfill their requests.

It was the time to placate the supernatural powers controlling the processes of nature. In addition, Halloween was thought to be the most favorable time for divinations concerning marriage, luck, health and death. It was supposedly the only day on which Christians imagined that the help of the devil was invoked for such purposes.

These are, of course, all modern fantasies back-projected upon the Christianity of earlier centuries with no pre-19th century evidence to back them up.

Christianizing the Celtic Samhain

When Christianity eventually reached Ireland in 432 (and later the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in England), conversion began among the local people, including Christianization of the old Celtic traditions. This included a celebration of All Saints in the 20th of April, according to earliest Irish sources, like the Martyrology of Tallacht and the Felire of Oengus. There was no attempt on the part of missionaries in Ireland to "Christianize" a "Samhain" festival, or at least no direct documentation of any such claims has ever been discovered.

Pope Gregory III (731-741) consecrated a chapel in the Basilica of St. Peter to all the saints and fixed the anniversary, not by chance, for 1 November. In 835, Pope Gregory IV extended the celebration for all the martyrs (later all saints) on November 1 to include all the churches. The Christian establishment successful co-opted the Samhain season by shifting the emphasis. When November 1 became the new date for the feast of All Saints, all the Saints and Martyrs being called upon to sanctify the season, the pagan Celtic Samhain became merely 'Hallows Eve' It turned into a vigil of preparation for the morrow, which was made a day of obligation, when Christians were obliged to attend mass.

Even later, in the 11th century, the church would make November 2 All Souls' Day, a day to honor all the dead: all the Christian souls in the half-world of Purgatory. Catholic doctrine most clearly reveals the liminal or threshold connection between the two worlds: "that the souls which, on departing from the body, are not perfectly cleansed from venial sins, or have not fully atoned for past transgressions, are debarred from the Beatific Vision, and that the faithful on earth can help them by prayers, almsdeeds and especially by the sacrifice of the Mass." (Catholic Encyclopedia, 1910: 'All Soul's Day').

Pope Gregory III (731-741) consecrated a chapel in the Basilica of St. Peter to all the saints and fixed the anniversary for 1 November, in accordance with German practices, not Irish. In 835, Pope Gregory IV extended the celebration for all the martyrs (later all saints) on November 1 to include all the churches.

All Soul's Day was accepted and Christianized by Odilo (died 1048) in the Cluniac monasteries, and its observance spread through the Celtic north before it was introduced into Italy.

Later, in the 19th century, James Frazer and John Rhys claimed that the Christian establishment successfully "co-opted" the Samhain season, although neither of them had any record available of any such "Samhain" festival beyond the existence of a month in the old Irish calendar with that name. The truth of the matter is that in the very lands where Samhain might have been celebrated, there was no co-optation until it coincidentally occurred due to a regularization of a feast that had been celebrated at several different dates--including the month of April in Ireland.

Hallowe'en customs pre 1900

Observance of Halloween faded in the South of England from the 17th century onwards, being replaced by the commemoration of the Gunpowder Plot on November 5. However it remained popular in Scotland and the North of England. It is only in the last decade that it has become popular in the South of England again, although in an entirely Americanised version.

The custom survives most accurately in Ireland, where the last Monday of October is a public holiday. All schools close for the following week for mid-term, commonly called the Hallowe'en Break. As a result Ireland is the only country where children never have school on Halloween and are therefore free to celebrate it in the ancient and time-honoured fashion.

The custom of trick-or-treating is thought to have evolved from the European custom called souling, similar to the wassailing customs associated with Yuletide. On November 2, All Souls Day, Christians would walk from village to village begging for "soul cakes" - square pieces of bread with currants. Beggars would promise to say prayers on behalf of dead relatives helping the soul's passage to heaven. The distribution of soul cakes was encouraged by the church as a way to replace the ancient practice of leaving food and wine for roaming spirits at the Samhain. See Puck (mythology).

In Celtic parts of western Brittany. Samhain is still heralded by the baking of kornigou. Kornigou are cakes baked in the shape of antlers to commemorate the god of winter shedding his "cuckold" horns as he returns to his kingdom in the Otherworld.

Christianizing the Lemuria

May 13 was the culmination of the Roman Feast of the Lemures, in which the restless wandering spirits of the dead were propitiated with offerings and incantations.. Pope Boniface IV at the Feast of the Lemures, 13 May, either in 609 or 610 (the day being considered more significant than the year), reconsecrated the Pantheon in Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs, ordering an anniversary. The feast was to honor all the saints, 'known or unknown' and is taken as the early version of All Saints.

Religious Viewpoints

The mingling of Christian and "pagan" traditions in the early centuries following the founding of the Christian Church have left many modern Christians uncertain of their responsibility towards this holiday. Some fundamentalist Christian groups consider Halloween a Pagan holiday and may refer to it as "The most evil day of the year", refusing to allow their children to participate. Among these groups it is believed to have developed Satanic influences, as have many other Pagan practices. It used to be that on Halloween, schools would give children boxes to collect pennies in for UNICEF, but after these fundamentalist Christians complained that the schools were endorsing a Pagan religion, most schools stopped distributing such boxes. Other Christians, however, continue to connect this holiday with All Saints Day. Some modern Christian churches commonly offer a "fall festival" or harvest-themed alternative to Halloween celebrations.

On this day, Neopagans celebrate the sabbat of Samhain. Many Neopagans also take part in secular Halloween activities.

See also: Day of the Dead

External links