Halloween (a contraction of All Hallows' Evening), also known as All Halloween, always falls on October 31 - and this year that's a Tuesday. The festivities are just less than three weeks away and shops are already packed with sweets, costumes and pumpkins. The celebration takes place on the eve of All Saints’ Day - a Christian festival that is often called All Hallows’ Day.
Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31 they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.
It is widely believed that many Halloween traditions originated from ancient Celtic harvest festivals, particularly the Gaelic festival Samhain; that such festivals may have had pagan roots; and that Samhain itself was Christianized as Halloween by the early Church. Some believe, however, that Halloween began solely as a Christian holiday, separate from ancient festivals like Samhain. Halloween activities include trick-or-treating (or the related guising), attending Halloween costume parties, carving pumpkins into jack-o'-lanterns, lighting bonfires, apple bobbing, divination games, playing pranks, visiting haunted attractions, telling scary stories and watching horror films.According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it should be spelled ‘Hallow-e’en’ as the name is a contraction of ‘All-Hallow-even’. The date of October 31 was chosen as it was the last day of the year in the old Celtic calendar in which the year began on November 1. Ghoulish costumes were worn to frighten away spirits of the dead looking for bodies to possess. In Mexico and other Latin American countries, Día de los Muertos—the Day of the Dead—honors deceased loved ones and ancestors. In countries such as Ireland, Canada and the United States, adults and children alike revel in the popular Halloween holiday, which derived from ancient festivals and religious rituals.
People believed it was a time when the spirits of the dead were more easily able to return to our world. These departed souls were thought to visit their former homes and so feasts were held to which they were invited for offerings of food and drink. Members of the tribe dressed in costume, imitating the ancestral spirits, and went door to door reciting verses in exchange for food - clearly the origins of today’s trick-or-treating. Appeasing the spirits with food meant the people and their livestock were given special protection so they survived the winter.
In the Christian calendar, it’s called All Hallows’ Eve and is the first day in a triduum (three-day religious festival) that continues with All Saints’ Day on November 1 and then All Souls’ Day on November 2.
The three-day festival is called All hallow tide and is a time to remember the dead including saints and martyrs.
It’s believed that this door knocking tradition began when Irish migrants travelled to America to escape the famine of the 1800s. Children go door-to-door, asking for soul cakes in exchange for praying for the souls of friends and relatives. They went dressed up as angels, demons or saints. The soul cakes were sweet, with a cross marked on top and when eaten they represented a soul being freed from purgatory.
Another ritual that has become associated with Halloween is pumpkin carving. According to Irish legend, scary faces had to be carved into a variety of vegetables to scare of “Stingy Jack”. In the haunting tale which has been passed through centuries, Stingy Jack sells his soul to the Devil. After tricking Satan, Jack manages to keep a hold of his soul, but when he dies God doesn’t let him into heaven. Revelers believed that Jack’s spirit is trapped between heaven and hell, so they started carving the faces to frighten him away.
Another interesting thing about Halloween is that on Halloween, the fire grate would be cleared of ashes and the fire made to burn brightly. Each girl would place a hazel nut on the grate, and wait for what happened.
An old Devon saying predicts: “She whose nut first blazes, will be the first to marry. She, whose nut first cracks, will be jilted. She, whose nut first jumps, will soon start on a journey but will never marry. She, whose nut smoulders, will have sickness, disappointment in love, and perhaps die young.”
There are various beliefs on the celebration of Halloween day. However, whenever we hear about Halloween day, the things that come to our mind are all those scary faces, blood, dress ups, pumpkin carvings, sweets and lots of shopping.
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