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The History of Halloween

Did you know?:
Our ancestors celebrated New Year on November 1st

Halloween is derived from an ancient Celtic festival, Samhain.

The Celts celebrated their New Year's Eve on October 31st. It was celebrated every year with a festival called Samhain (pronounced 'sow-in'), that marked the end of the "season of the sun" (Summer) and the beginning of "the season of darkness and cold" ( Winter). The beginning of the Celtic New Year on November 1st.

The Celts believed that evil spirits came with the long hours of winter darkness. They believed that on that night the barriers between our world and the spirit world were at their weakest and therefore spirits were most likely to be seen on earth.

The Celts built bonfires to frighten the spirits away, and feasted and danced around the fires. The Hallowe'en fires brought comfort to the souls in purgatory* and people prayed for them as they held burning straw up high.

(*Purgatory is a place where souls are temporarily punished for venial sins. After they have been punished enough, they are permitted to move on to heaven.)

The fires of Hallowe'en burned the strongest in Scotland and Ireland, where Celtic influence was most pronounced, although they lingered on in some of the northern counties of England until the early years of the last century.

The last night of October was transformed by the Church into the vigil of All Saints' or Hallowe'en. Christians believe that goodwill always conquers evil, and that Jesus, the light of the World, defeats all the fear of darkness.

In England the day of fires became November 5th (Bonfire Night), the anniversary of the Gunpowder plot of 1605, but its closeness to Hallowe'en is more than a coincidence. Hallowe'en and Bonfire Night have a common origin they both originated from pagan times, when the evil spirits of darkness had to be driven away with noise and fire.

In Lancashire, 'Lating' or 'Lighting the witches' was an important Hallowe'en custom. People would carry candles from eleven to midnight. If the candles burned steadily the carriers were safe for the season, but if the witches blew them out, the omen was bad indeed.

In parts of the north of England Hallowe'en was known as Nut-crack Night. Nuts were put on the fire and, according to their behaviour in the flames, forecast faithfulness in sweethearts and the success or failure of marriages.

Hallowe'en was also sometimes called Snap Apple Night, in England. A game called snap apple was played where apples were suspended on a long piece of string. Contestants had to try an bite the apple without using their hands. A variation of the game was to fix an apple and a lighted candle at opposite ends of a stick suspended horizontally and to swing the stick round. The object was to catch the apple between the teeth whilst avoiding the candle.

Many places in England combined Hallowe'en with Mischief Night (celebrated on 4 November), when boys played all kinds of practical jokes on their neighbours. They changed shop signs, took gates off their hinges, whitewashed doors, and tied door latches.
Find out more about Mischief Night

Another tradition from which Halloween customs might have come from is a ninth century European custom, souling. It was a Christian festival where people would make house calls begging for soul cakes. It was believed that even strangers could help a soul's journey to heaven by saying prayers, so, in exchange for a cake they promised to pray for the donors' deceased relatives.

Find out more about the Christian Festival 'All Souls Day' and the Soul Cakes.

So why do we do what we do on Halloween Day, in England ?

So why do we do what we do
on Halloween Day, in England?

Jack-o-lanterns - Pumpkin Lanterns
These are hollowed out pumpkins with a face cut into one side. People once carved out beets, potatoes and turnips to use as lanterns on Halloween. Nowadays we carve out pumpkins.
How to make a Pumpkin Lantern

According to an Irish legend, jack-o-lanterns were named for a man named Jack, who could not enter heaven because he was a miser. He could not enter hell either, because he had played jokes on the devil. So instead, he had to walk the earth with his lantern until Judgment Day.

Fire was very important to the Celts as it was to all early people. In the old days people lit bonfires, to scare away evil spirits. They believed that light had power over darkness. In some places they used to jump over the fire to bring good luck.

Today, we light candles in pumpkin lanterns and then put them outside our homes to frighten away witches and ghosts.

Apple Bobbing (Duck-apple)
The Roman festival for remembering the dead was also in October. During this time, the Romans remembered their goddess, Pomona. She was the goddess of the trees and fruits, and when the Romans came to Britain, they began to hold these two festivals on the same day as Samhain. Apple games probably became associated with Halloween because of this.

We play the game bobbing for apples, in which apples are placed in a tub or a large basin of water. The contestants, sometimes blindfolded, must take one bite from one of the apples without using their hands. It is not permitted to edge the apple to the side of the bowl to get hold of it.

Dressing up -
The tradition of dressing in costume for Halloween has both European and Celtic roots. On Halloween, when it was believed that ghosts came back to the earthly world, people thought that they would encounter ghosts if they left their homes. To avoid being recognized by these ghosts, people would wear masks when they left their homes after dark so that the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits.

To keep ghosts away from their houses on Halloween, people would place bowls of food outside their homes to appease the ghosts and prevent them from attempting to enter.

Trick or Treat
Halloween was a time for making mischief - many parts of England still recognise Halloween as Mischief Night - when children would knock on doors demanding a treat (Trick or Treat) and people would disguise themselves as witches, ghosts, kelpies and spunkies, in order to obtain food and money from nervous householders.

Find out more about Mischief Night

Traditions and Superstitions of Halloween

Superstitions of Hallowe'en

Precautions must be taken on this night of enchantment.

Journeys must be finished before sunset.

A piece of bread crossed with salt (holy bread with witch- repellent salt) was carried in the pockets of travellers to keep them safe.

Apples, nuts and candles figured prominently in many of the superstitions practised at Hallowe'en

Hazel Nuts -
Girls placed hazel nuts along the front of the firegrate, each one to symbolize one of her suitors. She could then find out who her future husband would be by chanting, 'If you love me, pop and fly; if you hate me, burn and die.'

People believed that the Devil was a nut-gatherer. At Halloween, nuts were used as magic charms.

If you slice an apple through the equator (to reveal the five-pointed star within) and then eat it by candlelight before a mirror, your future spouse will appear over your shoulder.
2) Peel an apple, making sure the peeling comes off in one long strand and then throw it over your shoulder. The shape it lands in will be the initial of your beloved.
3) If you place an apple under your pillow you will dream of your future husband.

Take a candle and look into a mirrow whilst combing your hair or eating an apple. Your future husband will appear peeking over your shoulder.

 Facts about Halloween

Fascinating Facts about Halloween

Halloween is always celebrated on 31 October.

Halloween is one of the oldest celebrations in the world, dating back over 2000 years to the time of the Celts who lived in Britain

Halloween is also know by other names:
All Hallows Eve
All Hallowtide
The Feast of the Dead
The Day of the Dead

Halloween in Welsh is 'Nos Calan Gaeaf'.

Halloween is correctly spelt as Hallowe’en.

When Christianity came to England and the rest of Europe, 1 November became All Saints Day - a day dedicated to all those saints who didn't have a special day of their own. They performed a mass called 'All hallows mass' and the night before became known as All Hallows E'en and eventually Hallowe’en or Halloween.

When the Romans conquered England, they merged Samhain with their own festivals, a harvest festival called Poloma, and a celebration for the dead called Feralia.

In Mexico, they celebrate El Dia de los Muertos or the Day of the Dead starting the evening of October 31.

It is thought that the colours orange and black became Halloween colours because orange is associated with harvests (Halloween marks the end of harvest) and black is associated with death.

Black cats were originally believed to protect witches' powers from negative forces.

A pumpkin is really a squash, and comes from the same family as the cucumber.

About 99% of pumpkins sold are used as Jack O' Lanterns at Halloween.

The biggest pumpkin in the world tipped the scales at a whopping 1,446 pounds. This gigantic gourd was weighed in October 2004 at a pumpkin festival in Port Elgin, Ontario, Canada.

The record for the fastest pumpkin carver in the world is Jerry Ayers of Baltimore, Ohio. He carved a pumpkin in just 37 seconds!

The very first jack o' lantern was made out of hollowed out turnips.

Ringing a bell scares evil spirits away.

If you see a spider on this night, it could be the spirit of a dead loved one who is watching you.

To meet a witch, put your clothes on inside out and walk backwards on Halloween night.

Top Tips for Halloween

If your pumpkin lantern shrivels up, you can restore it by soaking it overnight in water to rehydrate it.

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