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Halloween: Origins, Meaning, and Traditions
Halloween is a holiday celebrated each year on October 31, the evening before All Saints' Day. The celebration marks the day before the Western Christian feast of All Saints and initiates the season of Allhallowtide, which lasts three days and concludes with All Souls' Day. In much of Europe and most of North America, observance of Halloween is largely nonreligious.
What is Halloween and when is it celebrated?
The word Halloween comes from a contraction of All Hallows' Eve, which is the evening before All Hallows' Day or All Saints' Day. All Saints' Day is a Christian holiday that honors all the saints who have attained heaven. It is celebrated on November 1 in the Western churches and on the first Sunday after Pentecost in the Eastern churches.
Halloween is celebrated on October 31 in many countries around the world, especially in the United States, Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. Some countries have similar holidays that coincide with or are influenced by Halloween, such as Mexico's Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), China's Teng Chieh (Lantern Festival), and Japan's Obon Festival.
How did Halloween originate from the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain?
Halloween's origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago, mostly 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.
In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort during the long, dark winter. To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other's fortunes.
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How did Halloween evolve over time and incorporate other influences?
By A.D. 43, the Roman Empire had conquered the majority of Celtic territory. In the course of the 400 years that they ruled the Celtic lands, two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain. The first was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple, and the incorporation of this celebration into Samhain probably explains the tradition of bobbing for apples that is practiced today on Halloween.
In the In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 All Saints' Day, a time to honor saints and martyrs. It is widely believed today that the pope was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, but church-sanctioned holiday. The celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints' Day) and the night before it, the night of Samhain, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween.
As European immigrants came to America, they brought their varied Halloween customs with them. Because of the rigid Protestant belief systems that characterized early New England, celebration of Halloween in colonial times was extremely limited there. It was much more common in Maryland and the southern colonies. As the beliefs and customs of different European ethnic groups and the American Indians meshed, a distinctly American version of Halloween began to emerge. The first celebrations included "play parties," which were public events held to celebrate the harvest. Neighbors would share stories of the dead, tell each other's fortunes, dance and sing.
Colonial Halloween festivities also featured the telling of ghost stories and mischief-making of all kinds. By the middle of the 19th century, annual autumn festivities were common, but Halloween was not yet celebrated everywhere in the country. In the second half of the 19th century, America was flooded with new immigrants. These new immigrants, especially the millions of Irish fleeing Ireland's potato famine of 1846, helped to popularize the celebration of Halloween nationally.
Taking from Irish and English traditions, Americans began to dress up in costumes and go house to house asking for food or money, a practice that eventually became today's "trick-or-treat" tradition. Young women believed that on Halloween they could divine the name or appearance of their future husband by doing tricks with yarn, apple parings or mirrors.
In the late 1800s, there was a move in America to mold Halloween into a holiday more about community and neighborly get-togethers than about ghosts, pranks and witchcraft. At the turn of the century, Halloween parties for both children and adults became the most common way to celebrate the day. Parties focused on games, foods of the season and festive costumes. Parents were encouraged by newspapers and community leaders to take anything "frightening" or "grotesque" out of Halloween celebrations. Because of these efforts, Halloween lost most of its superstitious and religious overtones by the beginning of the 20th century.
Halloween: Costumes, Decorations, and Candy
Halloween is a time for fun and creativity, and one of the most enjoyable aspects of this holiday is dressing up in costumes, decorating your home or yard with spooky themes, and indulging in some sweet treats. Here are some ideas and tips for making your Halloween more festive and memorable.
What are some popular Halloween costumes and how to make them?
Some of the most popular Halloween costumes are based on characters from movies, TV shows, books, comics, video games, or myths and legends. For example, you can dress up as a superhero like Spider-Man, Batman, Wonder Woman, or Black Panther; a villain like Joker, Harley Quinn, Thanos, or Maleficent; a horror icon like Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, or Pennywise; a fantasy creature like a vampire, a werewolf, a witch, or a fairy; or a historical figure like a pirate, a cowboy, a ninja, or a princess.
You can buy ready-made costumes from online or local stores, or you can make your own with some creativity and materials you may already have at home. For example, you can make a ghost costume by cutting holes for eyes in a white sheet; you can make a mummy costume by wrapping yourself in toilet paper or bandages; you can make a skeleton costume by drawing bones on a black shirt and pants; or you can make a zombie costume by ripping and staining some old clothes and applying some fake blood and makeup.
What are some creative Halloween decorations and how to set them up?
Halloween decorations can add some atmosphere and excitement to your home or yard, and they can also impress or scare your guests or trick-or-treaters. Some of the most common Halloween decorations are pumpkins, spider webs, bats, ghosts, skulls, and tombstones. You can buy them from stores or make them yourself with some craft supplies.
For example, you can carve or paint some faces For example, you can carve or paint some faces on pumpkins and place them on yo