Halloween

halloween kids fancy dress

Today Halloween is largely an American holiday, associated with trick or treaters, bobbing for apples and ghoulish fancy dress. The name Halloween is a contraction of All Hallows’ Evening and is celebrated on the night of October 31 – being the eve of All Saints’ Day, it is also a religious holiday for some Christians. In ancient Britain, November 1 was considered to be the end of the summer period – as it was the date when the herds were returned from pasture and land tenures were renewed. It was also a time when the souls of those who had died were believed to return to visit their homes.

People set bonfires on hilltops for relighting their hearth fires for winter and to frighten away evil spirits. Sometimes they also wore masks and other disguises to avoid being recognised by ghosts. This is how witches, hobgoblins, fairies, and demons came to be associated with the day. When the Romans conquered the Celts in the 1st century AD, they added their own festivals – Feralia, commemorating the passing of the dead, and Pomona, the goddess of the harvest and in the 7th century, Pope Boniface IV established All Saints’ Day on May 13. This was later moved to November 1 and the evening before became a holy, or hallowed, eve.

The celebration of Halloween was largely forbidden among early American colonists, although in the 1800s festivals developed to mark the harvest that incorporated elements of Halloween. When large numbers of immigrants, including the Irish, started to travel to America in the mid-19th century, they brought their Halloween customs with them and in the 20th century Halloween became one of the principal holidays in the USA. Halloween parties often include bobbing for apples – possibly derived from the Roman celebration of Pomona. The most well-known symbol of modern Halloween celebrations is the hollowed-out pumpkin or Jack-o’-Lantern. The custom originated in the British Isles, usually using a large turnip instead of a pumpkin.

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