The Origins of Halloween

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The word Halloween is short for All Hallows’ Evening also known as Hallowe’en or All Hallows’ Eve. It falls on the night of October 31 and it is traditionally celebrated with trick-or-treating, costume parties, bonfires, visiting ‘haunted houses’ and carving jack-o-lanterns from pumpkins. The tradition began from the Irish and Scottish Immigrants who carried it over to North America in the nineteenth century. United Kingdom and other western countries joined the scary bandwagon in the late twentieth century.

The origins of Halloween stem from an ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain (pronounced “sah-win”), a celebration at the end of the harvest season in Gaelic culture when pagans would take stock of supplies and prepare for winter. These people believed that on October 31, the hazy lines between the worlds of the living and the dead would overlap and the deceased would come back to life and cause sickness and damage crops. The festival would frequently involve bonfires with masks and costumes worn in an attempt to appease or mimic the evil spirits.

Trick-or-treating, is an activity in which children proceed from house to house in costumes, asking for treats such as sweets with the question, “Trick or treat?” Trick-or-treating bears resemblance to the late medieval practice of “souling,” when the poor people of Ireland and Britain would go from door to door on Hallowmas (November 1), receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day (November 2).

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Although the celebrations in the UK don’t come close to the frenzy that Halloween provokes in the United States, children here do get excited about dressing up and knocking on doors in strange costumes, and unlike the States where they actually eat Pumpkin in pies- we tend to limit our Pumpkins to carving out the insides and placing a tea light inside!

 

 

images by Theresa Thompson, Greger Ravik, Michael Bentley