Halloween is celebrated in many countries around the world, from Japan
to the USA. It takes place on the 31st October and usually involves the wearing
of scary costumes and attending Halloween parties. In the USA, the practice
of “trick or treating” is also popular.
Halloween probably originated in Ireland, from the Celtic festival “Samhain”.
It was a festival which celebrated the end of summer – the “lighter” half of the
year and the beginning of the “darker” half. People believed that evil spirits
would come out on this day, and so to protect themselves they would dress
up as evil spirits themselves. They wore costumes and masks and painted
or blackened their faces. There were similar festivals in other countries. The
word “Halloween” comes from the Scottish “All-Hallows-Even”, which means
“the day before All-Hallows”. All Hallows is All Souls Day or the “Day of the
Dead”, observed in many cultures around the world.
The massive immigration from Scotland and Ireland to the USA in the nineteenth
century took the tradition of Halloween there. It is more popular in the USA
nowadays than anywhere else in the world.
Probably the most important tradition in the celebration of Halloween is dressing
in costumes. Theses costumes refl ect characters from horror fi lms or literature;
Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy are favourites. The general themes are
death and evil and costumes include ghosts, witches, vampires, werewolves
A jack-o-lantern is a carved out pumpkin with a candle inside. A scary face
is carved on one side of the pumpkin. Originally, in Ireland and Britain,
jack-o-lanterns were made from turnips, but in the USA pumpkins were plentiful
and much easier to carve out because of their size.
Trick or treating
This involves going from door to door, usually dressed in a Halloween costume
and asking for “treats”, such as sweets, cakes or even small amounts of money.
The question “trick or treat?” means “give me a treat or I’ll play a trick on you!”
This trick would be some kind of prank or joke.
In Scotland, guising takes the place of “trick or treating”. Children go from
house to house and perform tricks; they sing a song, do a dance or tell
a story in return for a treat.
Games and activities.
Apple bobbing is a popular game at Halloween parties. Apples are put
into a barrel or a tub of water where they fl oat on the surface. The idea
of the game is to get an apple using your teeth. It’s great fun, and everyone
Divination games are also popular at Halloween parties. Divination means
foretelling the future. In Scotland, they peel an apple, then throw the peel
on the ground. The peel is said to form the fi rst letter of the name of your
future husband or wife.
Telling ghost stories is another popular activity. The story-tellers usually
wear a scary costume and use props like skulls or spiders. They create
a supernatural atmosphere using candles.
Text taken from Oxford University Press