Halloween – History and Tradition

Halloween is an annual holiday observed on October 31, primarily in the United States, Canada, Ireland, and the United Kingdom.

The word Halloween is first attested in the 16th century and represents a Scottish variant of the fuller All-Hallows-Even (“evening”), that is, the night before All Hallows Day. Up through the early 20th century, the spelling “Hallowe’en” was frequently used, eliding the “v” and shortening the word. It has roots in the Celtic festival of Samhain and the Christian holiday All Saints’ Day, but is today largely a secular celebration. Common Halloween activities include trick-or-treating, wearing costumes and attending costume parties, carving jack-o’-lanterns, ghost tours, bonfires, apple bobbing, visiting haunted attractions, committing pranks, telling ghost stories or other frightening tales, and watching horror films.

Symbols associated with Halloween formed over time encompassing customs of medieval holy days as well as contemporary cultures. Images of Halloween are derived from many sources, including national customs, works of Gothic and horror literature (such as the novels Frankenstein and Dracula), and classic horror films (such as Frankenstein 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 souling practice of commemorating the souls in purgatory with candle lanterns carved from turnips, became adapted into the making of jack-o’-lanterns. In traditional Celtic Halloween festivals, large turnips were hollowed out, carved with faces, and placed in windows to ward off evil spirits. The carving of pumpkins is associated with Halloween in North America where pumpkins are both readily available and 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. Black and orange are the traditional Halloween colors and represent the darkness of night and the color of bonfires, autumn leaves, and jack-o’-lanterns.

Trick-or-treating is a customary celebration for children on Halloween. The practice of dressing up in costumes and begging door to door for treats on holidays dates back to the Middle Ages and includes Christmas wassailing. Trick-or-treating resembles the late medieval practice of souling, when poor folk would go door to door on Hallowmas (November 1), receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day (November 2). It originated in Ireland and Britain, although similar practices for the souls of the dead were found as far south as Italy. Shakespeare mentions the practice in his comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1593), when Speed accuses his master of “puling [whimpering or whining] like a beggar at Hallowmas.” The custom of wearing costumes and masks at Halloween goes back to Celtic traditions of attempting to copy the evil spirits or placate them, in Scotland for instance where the dead were impersonated by young men with masked, veiled or blackened faces, dressed in white.

adapted from wikipedia.org