The name Halloween is a short way of saying All Hallows’ Eve, which means “the night before the Roman Catholic holiday of All Saints’ Day. Although Halloween got its name from a Christian festival, its customs are of pagan origin. They come from two different sources: an ancient Celtic festival in honor of Samhain. lord of death, and a Roman festival in honor of Pomona, goddess of gardens and orchards. The Halloween colors, black and orange, suggest both ideas: death and harvest.
Masquerading, begging, and other Halloween customs are now mainly enjoyed by children. But many hundreds of years ago, these customs were performed quite seriously by adults as part of their religion. The scary part of Halloween comes from the Celts, who lived in the British Isles and northern France during ancient and medieval times. The Celts worshiped gods of nature. They feared the coming of winter, associating it with death and evil spirits. Every year on October 31, the last day of the year on the old pagan calendar, the Druids (Celtic priests and teachers) built huge bonfires to scare away the bad spirits of evil and death. They threw animals and crops into the fire as gifts for the evil spirits. The Celtic people also dressed in ugly, scary costumes. They believed that, if they disguised themselves, the spirits wouldn’t harm them. According to traditional beliefs, ghosts rose from their graves on this evening, and witches flew through the air on broomsticks or black cats. Also, the spirits of dead relatives and friends were expected to return to Earth for a visit. The Druids built bonfires on hilltops to guide these spirits back home.
From the Druid religion come the custom of masquerading and the symbols of Halloween: ghosts, skeletons, devils, witches, black cats, and owls. The jack-o’-lantern is also of Celtic origin. · It was an Irish custom to hollow out turnips and place lighted candles inside them to scare evil spirits away from the house. In the U.S. people now use the native pumpkin. Pumpkins grow in a great variety of sizes-up to 1,092 pounds! To make a pumpkin into a jack-o’-lantern, remove the pulp and the seeds. Then cut holes into the hollow pumpkin to make the eyes, nose, and mouth. Put a candle inside it, light the candle, and put the jack-o’-lantern by the window. Why this light is called a jack-o’-lantern? An Irish story tells about an unhappy man named Jack. He wasn’t welcome in heaven because he was stingy, and he couldn’t go to hell because he had played jokes on the devil. So he had to walk the Earth forever, carrying a lantern.
The Irish also introduced the trick-or-treat custom hundreds of years ago. Groups of farmers would travel from house to house asking for food for the village Halloween party. They would promise good luck to generous contributors and threaten those who were stingy.
The Druid holiday of Sarnhain also celebrated the harvest. This part of the celebration became even more significant after 55 B.C., when the Romans invaded England and brought with them their harvest festival of Pomona. After that, fruits and nuts—especially apples- became part of the Samhain ceremonies. Today, at Halloween time, Americans honor the harvest by displaying cornstalks and pumpkins; eating nuts, autumn fruits, and pumpkin pies and playing games with apples. One of the most popular Halloween games is bobbing for apples. In this game, apples float in a large tub of water. One at a time, children bend over the tub and try to catch an apple in their mouths without using their hands.
The Druid religion lasted longest in Ireland and Scotland, and Halloween was most important in these two countries. In the 1840s, Irish immigrants brought their Halloween costumes with them when they came to the USA.