Halloween is an annual holiday celebrated on October 31. It has roots in the Celtic pagan festival of Samhain and the Christian holy day of All Saints. It is largely a secular celebration, but some have expressed strong feelings about perceived religious overtones. Irish immigrants carried versions of the tradition to North America during Ireland’s Great Famine of the 1840s.
The day is often associated with orange and black, and is strongly associated with symbols like the jack-o’-lantern. Halloween activities include trick-or-treating, wearing costumes and attending costume parties, ghost tours, bonfires, visiting haunted attractions, pranks, reading scary stories, and watching horror films.
History of Halloween
Halloween has origins in the ancient Gaelic festival known as Samhain (pronounced sow-in or sau-an), which is derived from Old Irish and means roughly “summer’s end”. A similar festival was held by the ancient Britons and is known as Calan Gaeaf (pronounced kalan-geyf). The festival of Samhain celebrates the end of the “lighter half” of the year and beginning of the “darker half”, and is sometimes regarded as the “Celtic New Year”.
It could be seen as a festival of the dead. The ancient Gaels believed that the border between this world and the otherworld became thin on Samhain, allowing spirits (both harmless and harmful) to pass through. The family’s ancestors were honoured and invited home whilst harmful spirits were warded off. It is believed that the need to ward off harmful spirits led to the wearing of costumes and masks. Their purpose was to disguise oneself as a harmful spirit and thus avoid harm. In Scotland the spirits were impersonated by young men dressed in white with masked, veiled or blackened faces.
Samhain was also a time to take stock of food supplies and slaughter livestock for winter stores. Bonfires played a large part in the festivities. All other fires were doused and each home lit their hearth from the bonfire. The bones of slaughtered livestock were cast into its flames. Sometimes two bonfires would be built side-by-side, and people and their livestock would walk between them as a cleansing ritual.
Another common practice was divination, which often involved the use of food and drink.