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For other uses, see Halloween (disambiguation).
Also called All Hallows’ Eve
All Saints’ Eve
Observed by Numerous Western countries (see article)
Type Secular, with roots in Christian and Celtic tradition
Begins Sunset
Ends Midnight
Date October 31
Celebrations Costume parties, trick-or-treating in costumes, bonfires, divination
Related to Samhain, All Saints’ Day

Halloween (also spelled Hallowe’en) is an annual holiday celebrated on October 31. It has roots in the Celtic festival of Samhain and the Christian holy day of All Saints. It is largely a secular celebration but some have expressed strong feelings about perceived religious overtones.[1][2][3]

The colours black and orange have become associated with the
celebrations, perhaps because of the darkness of night and the colour
of fire or of pumpkins, and maybe because of the vivid contrast this
presents for merchandising. Another association is with the jack-o’-lantern. Halloween activities include trick-or-treating, wearing costumes and attending costume parties, ghost tours, bonfires, visiting haunted attractions, pranks, telling scary stories, and watching horror films.




Historian Nicholas Rogers, exploring the origins of Halloween, notes
that while "[s]ome folklorists have detected its origins in the Roman
feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, or in the festival of the dead called Parentalia, [it is] more typically [l]inked to the celtic festival of Samhain or Samuin (pronounced sow-an or sow-in)",[4] which is derived from Old Irish and means roughly "summer’s end".[4] A similar festival was held by the ancient Britons and is known as Calan Gaeaf (pronounced kalan-geyf).

Snap-Apple Night by Daniel Maclise showing a Halloween party in Blarney, Ireland, in 1832. The young children on the right bob for apples. A couple in the center play a variant, which involves retrieving an apple hanging from a string. The couples at left play divination games.

The festival of Samhain celebrates the end of the "lighter half" of
the year and beginning of the "darker half", and is sometimes[5] regarded as the "Celtic New Year".[6]

The celebration has some elements of a festival of the dead. The ancient Celts believed that the border between this world and the Otherworld
became thin on Samhain, allowing spirits (both harmless and harmful) to
pass through. The family’s ancestors were honoured and invited home
whilst harmful spirits were warded off. It is believed that the need to
ward off harmful spirits led to the wearing of costumes and masks.
Their purpose was to disguise oneself as a harmful spirit and thus
avoid harm. In Scotland the spirits were impersonated by young men
dressed in white with masked, veiled or blackened faces.[7][8] Samhain was also a time to take stock of food supplies and slaughter livestock for winter stores. Bonfires
played a large part in the festivities. All other fires were doused and
each home lit their hearth from the bonfire. The bones of slaughtered
livestock were cast into its flames.[9]
Sometimes two bonfires would be built side-by-side, and people and
their livestock would walk between them as a cleansing ritual.

Another common practise was divination, which often involved the use of food and drink.

The name ‘Halloween’ and many of its present-day traditions derive from the Old English era.[10][11][12][13][14]

Origin of name

The term Halloween, originally spelled Hallowe’en, is shortened from All Hallows’ Evene’en is a shortening of even, which is a shortening of evening. This is ultimately derived from the Old English Eallra Hālgena ǣfen.[15] It is now known as "Eve of" All Saints’ Day, which is November 1st.

A time of pagan festivities,[6] Popes Gregory III (731–741) and Gregory IV (827–844) tried to supplant it with the Christian holiday (All Saints‘ Day) by moving it from May 13 to November 1.

In the 800s, the Church measured the day as starting at sunset, in accordance with the Florentine calendar.
Although All Saints’ Day is now considered to occur one day after
Halloween, the two holidays were once celebrated on the same day.


A traditional Irish halloween Jack-o’-lantern from the early 20th century on display in the Museum of Country Life, Ireland.

On All Hallows’ eve, many Irish and Scottish people have
traditionally placed a candle on their western window sill to honor the
departed. Other traditions include carving lanterns from turnips or rutabagas, sometimes with faces on them, as is done in the modern tradition of carving pumpkins. Welsh, Irish and British myth are full of legends of the Brazen Head, which may be a folk memory of the ancient Celtic practice of headhunting[citation needed].
The heads of enemies may have decorated shrines, and there are tales of
the heads of honored warriors continuing to speak their wisdom after
death. The carving of pumpkins
is associated with Halloween in North America where pumpkins are both
readily available and much larger- making them easier to carve than
Many families that celebrate Halloween carve a pumpkin into a
frightening or comical face and place it on their doorstep after dark.
The American tradition of carving pumpkins preceded the Great Famine period of Irish immigration[17] and was originally associated with harvest time in general, not becoming specifically associated with Halloween until the mid-to-late 1800s.[18][19]

Halloween spiders at a row house in Washington DC

The imagery surrounding Halloween is largely a mix of the Halloween season itself, works of Gothic and horror literature, in particular the novels Frankenstein and Dracula, and nearly a century of work from American filmmakers and graphic artists,[20] and British Hammer Horror productions, also a rather commercialized take on the dark and mysterious. Modern Halloween imagery tends to involve death, evil, the occult, magic, or mythical monsters. Traditional characters include the Devil, the Grim Reaper, ghosts, ghouls, demons, witches, goblins, vampires, werewolves, zombies, skeletons, black cats, spiders, bats, and crows.[21]

Particularly in America, symbolism is inspired by classic horror films (which contain fictional figures like Frankenstein’s monster and The Mummy). Elements of the autumn season, such as pumpkins, corn husks, and scarecrows, are also prevalent. Homes are often decorated with these types of symbols around Halloween.

The two main colors associated with Halloween are orange and black.[22]

Trick-or-treating and guising

Main article: Trick-or-treating

Typical Halloween scene in Dublin, Ireland.

Trick-or-treating is a customary celebration for children on
Halloween. Children go in costume from house to house, asking for
treats such as candy
or sometimes money, with the question, "Trick or treat?" The word
"trick" refers to a (mostly idle) threat to perform mischief on the
homeowners or their property if no treat is given. In some parts of
Ireland and Scotland children still go guising. In this custom the
child performs some sort of show, i.e. sings a song or tells a ghost
story, in order to earn their treats.


Main article: Halloween costume

Halloween costumes are traditionally those of monsters such as
ghosts, skeletons, witches, and devils. They are said to be used to
scare off demons. Costumes are also based on themes other than
traditional horror, such as those of characters from television shows,
movies, and other pop culture icons.

Costume sales

BIGresearch conducted a survey for the National Retail Federation
in the United States and found that 53.3% of consumers planned to buy a
costume for Halloween 2005, spending $38.11 on average (up $10 from the
year before). They were also expected to spend $4.96 billion in 2006,
up significantly from just $3.3 billion the previous year.[23]


"Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF" has become a common sight during Halloween in North America. Started as a local event in a Philadelphia
suburb in 1950 and expanded nationally in 1952, the program involves
the distribution of small boxes by schools (or in modern times,
corporate sponsors like Hallmark,
at their licensed stores) to trick-or-treaters, in which they can
solicit small-change donations from the houses they visit. It is
estimated that children have collected more than $118 million (US)
for UNICEF since its inception. In Canada, in 2006, UNICEF decided to
discontinue their Halloween collection boxes, citing safety and
administrative concerns; after consultation with schools, they instead
redesigned the program.[24][25]

Games and other activities

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This section is missing citations or needs footnotes. Please help add inline citations to guard against copyright violations and factual inaccuracies. (October 2008)

In this Halloween greeting card from 1904, divination
is depicted: the young woman looking into a mirror in a darkened room
hopes to catch a glimpse of the face of her future husband.

There are several games traditionally associated with Halloween parties. One common game is dunking or apple bobbing,
in which apples float in a tub or a large basin of water and the
participants must use their teeth to remove an apple from the basin.[26] A variant of dunking involves kneeling on a chair, holding a fork between the teeth and trying to drop the fork into an apple[27]. Another common game involves hanging up treacle or syrup-coated scones
by strings; these must be eaten without using hands while they remain
attached to the string, an activity that inevitably leads to a very
sticky face.

Some games traditionally played at Halloween are forms of divination.
A traditional Irish and Scottish form of divining one’s future spouse
is to carve an apple in one long strip, then toss the peel over one’s
shoulder. The peel is believed to land in the shape of the first letter
of the future spouse’s name.[28] Unmarried women were told[who?]
that if they sat in a darkened room and gazed into a mirror on
Halloween night, the face of their future husband would appear in the
mirror. However, if they were destined to die before marriage, a skull would appear. The custom was widespread enough to be commemorated on greeting cards[29] from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The telling of ghost stories and viewing of horror films are common
fixtures of Halloween parties. Episodes of television series and
Halloween-themed specials (with the specials usually aimed at children)
are commonly aired on or before the holiday, while new horror films are
often released theatrically before the holiday to take advantage of the

Haunted attractions

Main article: Haunted attraction

In front of "haunted house" during Halloween season, Northern California.

Haunted attractions are entertainment venues designed to thrill and
scare patrons; most are seasonal Halloween businesses. Origins of these
paid scare venues are difficult to pinpoint, but it is generally
accepted that they were first commonly used by the Junior Chamber International (Jaycees) for fundraising.[30] They include haunted houses, corn mazes, and hayrides,[31]
and the level of sophistication of the effects has risen as the
industry has grown. Haunted attractions in the United States bring in
an estimate $300–500 million each year, and draw some 400,000
customers, although trends suggest a peak in 2005[30]. This increase in interest has led to more highly technical special effects and costuming that is comparable with that in Hollywood films.[32]


Because the holiday comes in the wake of the annual apple harvest, candy apples (known as toffee apples outside North America), caramel or taffy apples are a common Halloween treat made by rolling whole apples in a sticky sugar syrup, sometimes followed by rolling them in nuts.

At one time, candy apples were commonly given to children, but the practice rapidly waned in the wake of widespread rumors that some individuals were embedding items like pins and razor blades in the apples.[33] While there is evidence of such incidents,[34]
they are quite rare and have never resulted in serious injury.
Nonetheless, many parents assumed that such heinous practices were
rampant. At the peak of the hysteria, some hospitals offered free x-rays
of children’s Halloween hauls in order to find evidence of tampering.
Virtually all of the few known candy poisoning incidents involved
parents who poisoned their own children’s candy, and there have been
occasional reports of children putting needles in their own (and other
children’s) candy in need of a bit of attention.[citation needed]

One custom that persists in modern-day Ireland is the baking (or more often nowadays, the purchase) of a barmbrack (Irish: báirín breac), which is a light fruitcake,
into which a plain ring, a coin and other charms are placed before
baking. It is said that those who get a ring will find their true love
in the ensuing year. This is similar to the tradition of king cake at the festival of Epiphany.

List of foods associated with the holiday:

Around the world

Halloween is a holiday observed on October 31, primarily in regions
of the Western world. The festival with its roots in Celtic cultures, Ireland and Scotland, later in France and Britain [35], was popularized in America after Irish immigrants brought it to the United States in 1846.[36]
Halloween is not celebrated in all countries and regions of the world,
and among those that do the traditions and importance of the
celebration vary significantly. Celebration in the United States has
had a significant impact on how the holiday is observed in some other
nations. The history of Halloween traditions in a given country also
lends context to how it is presently celebrated.[citation needed]

Religious perspectives

See also: All Saints and Samhain

A natural Halloween decoration in Muir Woods National Monument

In North America, Christian attitudes towards Halloween are quite diverse. In the Anglican Church, some dioceses have chosen to emphasize the Christian traditions of All Saints’ Day,[37][38] while some other Protestants celebrate the holiday as Reformation Day, a day to remember the Protestant Reformation.[39][40]

Many Christians ascribe no negative significance to Halloween,
treating it as a purely secular holiday devoted to celebrating
"imaginary spooks" and handing out candy. Halloween celebrations are
common among Roman Catholic parochial schools throughout North America and in Ireland. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church sees Halloween as having a Christian connection.[41] Father Gabriele Amorth, a Vatican-appointed exorcist
in Rome, has said, "[I]f English and American children like to dress up
as witches and devils on one night of the year that is not a problem.
If it is just a game, there is no harm in that."[1]

Most Christians hold the view that the tradition is far from being
"satanic" in origin or practice and that it holds no threat to the
spiritual lives of children: being taught about death and mortality,
and the ways of the Celtic ancestors actually being a valuable life
lesson and a part of many of their parishioners’ heritage.[42]
Other Christians feel concerned about Halloween, and reject the holiday
because they believe it trivializes (and celebrates) "the occult" and
what they perceive as evil.[2] A response among some fundamentalists in recent years has been the use of Hell houses or themed pamphlets (such as those of Jack T. Chick) which attempt to make use of Halloween as an opportunity for evangelism.[43][dead link]

Some consider Halloween to be completely incompatible with the Christian faith[44] because of its origin as a pagan "Festival of the Dead." In more recent years, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston has organized a "Saint Fest" on the holiday.[43]
Many contemporary Protestant churches view Halloween as a fun event for
children, holding events in their churches where children and their
parents can dress up, play games, and get candy. Jehovah’s Witnesses do
not celebrate Halloween for they believe anything that originated from
a pagan holiday should not be celebrated by true Christians.[45]

Religions other than Christianity also have varied views on Halloween. Celtic Pagans consider the season a holy time of year.[46] Celtic Reconstructionists, and others who maintain ancestral customs, make offerings to the Gods and the ancestors.[46]

Some Wiccans feel that the tradition is offensive to "real witches" for promoting stereotypical caricatures of "wicked witches".[3]

In Arab countries where it is celebrated, devotion is given to St. Barbara.

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