Halloween

Where did Halloween come from?

To begin with, Halloween started as a harvest festival. The Celts (who lived in Ireland, the United Kingdom and France) marked the end of the summer and the beginning of winter with a harvest festival. It was called "Samhain" (pronounced sow-in), and this directly translated as ‘the end of summer’.

In terms of religion, the Celts believed that the festival would make their gods happy. They thought they would protect them and their crops during the long, hard winter that was to come. Other rituals included building massive fires and burning crops as sacrifices to their gods. The Celts wore costumes and practised fortune telling too - all to appease the gods.

Where did the name Halloween come from then?

The Celts eventually became Christians and they started to call the first day of November ‘All Saints’ Day’. Another old English word for 'All Saints’ Day’ was ‘All-hallows’. Eventually, people began to call the night before the first of November 'All-hallows Eve’. This name evolved into the word 'Halloween' which is of course still used today (and is much easier to say!).

Why do people dress in costumes at Halloween?

There was a belief that ghosts walked the streets on Halloween night which obviously scared people. The Celts (and other groups) began to wear masks to fool the ghosts into believing that they were spirits too. Later, people began to wear costumes to go with the masks. As we know these days, this has evolved into people wearing elaborate fancy dress outfits.

Why do we make jack-o’-lanterns at Halloween?

This story is really quite fascinating. Legend has it that, in Ireland, there was a very mean and sly man called Jack. He was always playing tricks on people. When he died, he was most definitely not allowed into heaven, but he also wasn't allowed into hell! He was sentenced to walk the Earth alone for all eternity. The only thing Jack had to guide him on his lonely way was a hollowed-out turnip with a light inside it. This is where we get the name ‘Jack of the Lantern’ which evolved to ‘jack-o’-lantern’. When European settlers arrived in America, they realised that pumpkins would be far easier to carve as they were soft and would give out a brighter, orangey glow compared to turnips. As we know, jack-o’-lanterns are still carved from pumpkins today. In fact, pumpkin carving is an activity enjoyed by children and adults all over the world. Going pumpkin picking in September and October is a firm-favourite for families these days.

Why do we go trick or treating at Halloween?

In previous times, people were not just afraid of meeting ghosts on Halloween night in the streets, they were also terrified that spirits would come into their homes. It became tradition to leave bowls of food outside their doors to deter the ghosts from entering. As the years passed, people began to fear ghosts less. They started to eat the tasty treats themselves. Many believe this led to the commencement of trick or treating. There is another school of thought that trick or treating began due to another ritual though. Some people started giving others cakes in return for prayers being said for their deceased relatives on All Souls' Day in England. All Souls' Day is on 2nd November - the day after All Saints' Day and two days after Halloween. Instead of just giving cakes, some poor children began visiting their rich neighbours to look for food, drinks and money as well. In exchange for these items, they promised to pray for the homeowners' relatives who had passed away. It's clear to see how these former traditions evolved into what we now know as trick or treating.

So there is a lot more to Halloween than just witches, cats and bats! We hope you've enjoyed reading all about its history and maybe learnt a new fact or two. Happy Halloween, everyone! We hope you have fun honouring this age-old tradition began by the Celts.
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