Halloween, or Hallowe’en , also known as Allhalloween, All Hallows’ Eve, or All Saints’ Eve, is a celebration observed in a number of countries on 31 October, the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day.
Halloween is just around the corner. It is one of the world’s oldest holidays, dating back to pagan times. But it is celebrated today by more people in more countries than ever before. there’s a simple reason: it is fun and it is good, clean, harmless fun for young and old alike!
In Ireland, which is considered to be where Halloween, the day is still celebrated much like it is in the United States. In rural areas, bonfires are lit as they were centuries ago, and all over the country, children get dressed up in costumes and spend the evening “trick-or-treating” in their neighborhoods. After trick-or-treating, most people attend parties with neighbors and friends. At the parties, many games are played, including “snap-apple,” a game in which an apple on a string is tied to a doorframe or tree and players attempt to bite the hanging apple. In addition to bobbing for apples, parents often arrange treasure hunts, with candy or pastries as the “treasure.” The Irish also play a card game where cards are laid face down on a table with candy or coins underneath them. When a child chooses a card, he receives whatever prize is found below it.
A traditional food eaten on Halloween is barnbrack, a kind of fruitcake that can be bought in stores or baked at home. A muslin-wrapped treat is baked inside the cake that, it is said, can foretell the eater’s future. If a ring is found, it means that the person will soon be wed; a piece of straw means that a prosperous year is on its way. Children are also known to play tricks on their neighbors, such as “knock-a-dolly,” a prank in which children knock on the doors of their neighbors, but run away before the door is opened.
While the Irish and Scots preferred turnips, English children made “punkies” out of large beets (which they call beetroots), upon which they carved a design of their choice. Then, they would carry their “punkies” through the streets while singing the “Punkie Night Song” as they knocked on doors and asked for money. Halloween became Guy Fawkes Night and moved a few days later – see the History of Halloween, but recently it has been celebrated on October 31, in addition to Guy Fawkes Night.
In some rural areas, turnip lanterns were placed on gateposts to protect homes from the spirits who roamed on Halloween night. Another custom was to toss objects such as stones, vegetables and nuts into a bonfire to frighten away the spirits. These symbolic sacrifices were also used as fortune-telling tools. If a pebble thrown into the flames at night was no longer visible in the morning, then it was believed that the person who tossed the pebble would not survive another year. If nuts tossed into the fire by young lovers then exploded, it signified a quarrelsome marriage. For the most part however, the English ceased celebrating Halloween with the spread of Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation. Since followers of the new religion did not believe in Saints, they saw no reason to celebrate the Eve of All Saints’ Day.
However, in recent years, the American “trick or treating” custom, together with the donning of costumes for going door-to-door, has become a relatively popular pastime among English children at Halloween, although many of the adults (particularly the older generations) have little idea as to why they are being asked for sweets and are usually ill-prepared to accommodate their small and hopeful callers.
Halloween in France is usually celebrated by costumed people of all ages going to parties at friends’ homes, restaurants, bars, or clubs. The costumes themselves tend to be traditionally “scary” – mummies, ghosts, goblins, witches, and vampires – rather than the cute costumes like princesses, superheroes, and the cartoon character of the day which are popular in the US. Trick-or-treating is extremely rare; when it does exist, it is not from house-to-house, but from store-to-store.
Stores, malls, restaurants, offices, and homes decorate their windows; pastry and candy shops make up special desserts and candies; and many different kinds of companies use Halloween in their ads. Supermarkets sell pumpkins for jack-o’-lanterns and candy companies are now marketing candy in the traditional Halloween format: one big bag filled with lots of little packages, which may encourage trick-or-treating.
Traditionally, pumpkins are not a popular food in France, so the high demand for jack-o’-lanterns during Halloween has been a boon for pumpkin growers. There is even a pumpkin patch at a farm outside of Paris where people can pick their own.
Halloween in France is rather controversial, due to the perception of corporate and cultural influence, as well as the fact that it is not a typical French holiday and some people still don’t understand what is being celebrated. Because Halloween is seen as an American celebration, some French people refuse to enjoy it, having decided to include it in their anti-American boycott. It’s too early to tell whether Halloween will develop into a long-term tradition; once the novelty wears off, it may turn out to be just a fad.
Mexico, Latin America And Spain
Among New World Spanish-speaking nations, particularly Mexico and Aztec-influenced Latin America, Halloween is known as “El Dia de los Muertos.” the days of the dead, a three-day celebration that begins on the evening of October 31 and culminates on November 2. This is an ancient festivity that has been transformed throughout the years. It was originally intended in prehistoric Mexico to celebrate children and the dead. Mexican families remember their dead and the continuity of life. It is a joyous and happy holiday…a time to remember friends and family who have died. Officially commemorated on November 2 (All Souls’ Day), the three-day celebration actually begins on the evening of October 31. Designed to honor the dead who are believed to return to their homes on Halloween, many families construct an altar in their home and decorate it with candy, flowers, photographs, fresh water and samples of the deceased’s favorite foods and drinks. Frequently, a basin and towel are left out in order that the spirit can wash prior to indulging in the feast. Candles are incense are burned to help the departed find his or her way home.
On November 2, relatives gather at the gravesite to picnic and reminisce. Relatives also tidy the gravesites of deceased family members, including snipping weeds, making repairs and painting. The grave is then adorned with flowers, wreaths or paper streamers. They bring picnics and sit around the grave sites sharing stories of the departed and feasting on foods such as spicy meat dishes, batter bread and lots of sweets; some shaped like skulls. The abundance of food, drink and good company creates a festive atmosphere along with recognizing the cycle of life by the interaction of the living with the dead. Some of these gatherings may even include tequila and a mariachi band although American Halloween customs are gradually taking over this celebration. In Mexico during the Autumn, countless numbers of Monarch butterflies return to the shelter of Mexico’s oyamel fir trees. It was the belief of the Aztecs that these butterflies bore the spirits of dead ancestors.
In the villages, parades are held. People dress as skeletons and dance in the streets. Often, a live person is placed inside a coffin which is then paraded through the streets while vendors toss fruit, flowers and candies into the casket. Home feast are held and loaves of bread, “Bread of the Dead” are given. Inside the loaves are sugar skeletons or other items of death motif. This gift is more prized if the skull or skeleton is embossed with ones own name. The families also attend candle lit ceremonies in church and offer prayers.
In Sweden, Halloween is known as “Alla Helgons Dag” and is celebrated from October 31 until November 6. As with many other holidays, “Alla Helgons Dag” has an eve which is either celebrated or becomes a shortened working day. The Friday prior to All Saint’s Day is a short day for universities while school-age children are given a day of vacation.