- Celebrated: Nov. 1 to Nov. 1
Time: Halloween is a traditional holiday observed on October 31 in the western world.
Halloween originates from the traditional holiday of Celts in Great Britain, who believed that the last day of October was both the end of summer and the beginning of winter. It is the most important day in Celts’ calendar, also called “the day of the dead” or “the ghost day”. They believed that the God of death would assemble the disembodied spirits of all those who had died throughout the preceding year on the evening of that day. Therefore, it would be of great danger, with so many ghosts hanging around. People used to put delicious food in front of the gates of their houses in order to attract those good ghosts and to scare those evil ones. It is said that Celts used to wear masks on that day.
Halloween has always involved some mystery things. People in Europe believe that Halloween is the day closest to the ghost world. In the night, children often collected candies door by door dressed in scary costumes and masks. The holiday is very popular among English-speaking countries, such as the Great Britain, North America, Australia and New Zealand. Anoka of Minnesota, USA in particular is nicknamed the capital of Halloween, for it holds a large-scale parade every year to celebrate the holiday. Nowadays, people in Europe all think of Halloween as a best chance to fool around, tell ghost stories and scare each other. It is not only a time to appreciate the autumn scenery, but also a real time for revelry. Wearing masks is one of the most popular activities during Halloween.
There are two stories concerning with the origin of Halloween.
The first story says that Catholic Church in Europe regarded December 1st as “All Hallows Day” two thousand years ago. “Hollow” actually mean saints. However, legend has it that Celts living in Ireland and Scotland changed the holiday to October 31st, the date they believed as the end of summer and the beginning of a new year or the cold winter. People thought that on that day, the disembodied spirits and ghosts of all those who had died would come back to search living bodies to possess and tray to revive in the human world. The Celts believed all laws of space and time were suspended during this time, allowing the spirit world to intermingle with the living. Naturally, the living did not want to be possessed. So on the night of October 31, people would extinguish fires and candles in their homes to make ghosts difficult to find the living. They would also dress up in all manner of ghoulish costumes and noisily parade around the neighborhood in order to frighten away spirits looking for bodies to possess. After that, people would light candles again and begin the new life of the next year. Some accounts tell that Celts would scarify the living to hold a memorial ceremony for the dead on October 31.
In the first century, the Romans conquered the territory of Celts and adopted the practices of Halloween. They abolished the brutal practice of killing someone to hold a memorial ceremony and combined their own tradition of celebrating harvest in October and the practice of Celts together. Therefore, they wore only scary masks and dressed like animals and ghosts to get rid of those wandering spirits. This is probably the origin of people dressing in costume today. The theme of the practices has changed over time to become more pleasant. As belief in spirit possession waned, the practice of dressing up like hobgoblins, ghosts, and witches took on a more ceremonial role. Till today most of Halloween images like witches and black cats have become funny and cute.
The second story says that Halloween originates from the western European countries, such as the ancient Ireland, Scotland and Wales. People living there, called Druitt men, celebrated their new year on December 1st. During the New Year eve, they would call for all their young men to wear all kinds of strange masks and hold turnip lights. They wandered among villages to celebrate the autumn harvest and to scare away the wandering spirits. Some people said the ritual was to let those ghosts see the great harvest and treat them well, while others believed that all those lights are to scare ghosts or to light up their returning road.
Although in medieval Europe Christianity once tried to dispel those pagans, the memorial ceremony has never been eliminated. That is why there are still witches, black cats and spells kept in today’s Halloween.
The Jack-o-lantern is probably the most well-known symbol of Halloween. The Irish and Englishmen used turnips as their “Jack’s lanterns” originally. But when the immigrants came to America, they found that pumpkins were far more plentiful than turnips. So the Jack-O-Lantern in America was a hollowed-out pumpkin, lit with an ember. People usually carve scary faces on these pumpkins and put them in front of their gates to drive away devils and ghosts.
Pumpkins are yellow, so yellow becomes the traditional color of today’s Halloween. The practice of making pumpkin lanterns can date back to Irish. The Irish folklore has it that a man named Jack, who was notorious as a drunkard and trickster, tricked Satan into climbing a tree. Jack then carved an image of a cross in the tree’s trunk, trapping the devil up the tree. Jack made a deal with the devil that, if he would never tempt him again, he would promise to let him down the tree. According to the folk tale, after Jack died, he was denied entrance to Heaven because of his evil ways, but he was also denied access to Hell because he had tricked the devil. Instead, the devil gave him a single ember to light his way through the frigid darkness. The ember was placed inside a hollowed-out turnip to keep it glowing longer. When the immigrants came to America, they found that pumpkins were far more plentiful than turnips. So the Jack-O-Lantern in America was a hollowed-out pumpkin, lit with an ember. If people hang Jack-O-Lantern on their windows, it means that they allow children to knock and play the trick or treating.
Black and orange are two traditional colors of Halloween. Modern Halloween products also use purple, green and red. Pumpkins and scarecrows are also the symbols of Halloween.
Trick-or-treating is a customary celebration for children on Halloween. Children go in scary 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 “threat” to perform mischief on the homeowners or their property if no treat is given. The house owner (sometimes dressed in the same scary costume) will give kids candies, chocolates and other gifts. Some houses even make special sound effects and other devices to create horrible atmosphere.
When children are playing “Trick or Treat”, teenagers will attend all kinds of parties, like masquerade. They usually dress like zombies, ghosts, witches and demons.
Bobbing for apples
On the eve of the day before Halloween, people usually play the game of bobbing for apples. Parents first make several apples float on the water, and let children to bite the apple. Who first bites the apple wins the game.
Because Halloween is also the harvest season for apples, toffee apples become the most popular food during the holiday. First wash and dry the apples and then insert the sticks into their stalk ends. Dip each apple into the golden brown syrupy making sure all areas of the apple are covered. Put each apple on the baking tray to set. The optional decorations should be added before placing the apples on the tray. It is rumored that someone would play the trick by inserting needles or blades in to the apple, so the custom of giving toffee apples as gifts is dying today. People also make other delicious foods like candy corn, hot apple cider and baked pumpkin seeds.
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- China Festival Tours
- The Schedule of Chinese Public Holidays 2012
- China Holiday
I updated this article on May 22, 2013
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