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What is Halloween?

By sophiebk 07 Oct 2019

Nowadays, Halloween is celebrated by dressing up in a spooky costume, eating sweets and watching scary movies, but the customs of Halloween go back centuries and are deeply steeped in religion and tradition.

Where did the idea of Halloween come from?

The origin of Halloween can be traced back to the ancient Celts who ruled over Ireland, Britain and Northern France. The Celts were pagans and at the beginning of November celebrated the festival ‘Samhain’ - the festival marked the end of summer and the harvest season. The Celts believed that Samhain marked the night that the door between this world and the next was open and spirits could pass through, distinctions between the living and the dead became blurred and predictions could be made about the future. On Samhain, the Celts would wear animal heads and skins as costumes and tell each other’s fortunes.

The concept of ‘Samhain’ combined with other religious festivals over the years and it was only in the second half of the nineteenth century that what we now know as ‘Halloween’ began to be celebrated in America. By this time, the festival had become a lot less scary and more about community spirit. As with most trends in America, Halloween has spread to the UK and around the rest of the world.

So, what are the Halloween traditions today?

Trick or Treating: Over the years Halloween came to be a time of mischief making and pranks, and to try and stop this many schools and communities started Costume Parades to bring everyone together peacefully on Halloween. Treats such as popcorn, peanuts and candy were given to all who participated and the tradition spread so that people would go round their local community and get sweets from their friends and neighbours. Nowadays, children (usually accompanied by adults) will knock on houses around theirs in their best fancy dress costumes, and their neighbours will make sure they have a selection of sweets for the children and their costumes!

Pumpkin Carving: A lot of people will carve faces in pumpkins and put candles in them to celebrate Halloween. This tradition comes from the Celts again, as they would make carve faces in vegetables such as pumpkins and turnips to light their paths to and from the bonfires they would have during Samhain. You can see some great examples here.

Scary Movies: Horror films are a big part of Halloween and people will often have Movie Marathon nights where they will watch lots of scary films to celebrate the spooky time of year. Some examples of traditional Halloween films include Scream, Nightmare on Elm Street, Hocus Pocus, Beetlejuice and, of course, Halloween.

Fancy Dress: Hundreds of years ago, winter was an uncertain and frightening time. 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 recognised by these ghosts, they would wear masks so that the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits. This is where the tradition comes from, but it’s now much less scary! People will dress up as their favourite celebrities, characters from their favourite films or books, or just generally ‘spooky’ figures like witches or ghosts! You can see some great ideas here.

You can also see a video from National Geographic about the history of Halloween here -

How can you celebrate Halloween?

However you want! There will be lots of Fancy Dress parties going on in the city centre as well as day time activities like the floating cinema on the Albert Dock and Pumpkin Picking. There will also be some Halloween events in Halls so make sure you keep an eye out on Facebook for what's coming up!

Planning on decorating your flat? Get involved in out competition!