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Holiday Insight: Halloween

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General Information

Halloween is one of the most popular and colorful holidays in the world, particularly for children, though also for many adults. Each year on Halloween, people dress in costumes and go from door to door in search of treats. This custom is, of course, known as "trick or treating." The idea is that children who visit neighbors' homes on Halloween threaten to play a trick on anyone who does not give them a treat.

In centuries past, it was more common that children would play tricks on neighbors who didn't offer goodies, but now the threat of a "trick" is almost always in word only. Most people who answer their doors on Halloween night are prepared to offer treats, usually candy, to costumed visitors, and few children today are willing to risk the consequences of vandalizing a neighbor's home.

History of Halloween

Halloween has its origins in centuries-old pagan holidays. The modern holiday is based on pagan celebrations that honored the dead. Of these, the Celtic celebration of Samhain is thought to be the one with the strongest influence on the celebration of Halloween in subsequent centuries. The Druids, a culture of Celts that populated Ireland, England and Northern Europe in the first millennium, marked the last day of their calendar year by celebrating Samhain. It was considered a "nonexistent" day in the sense that the Druids believed that the veil between the afterlife and Earth was lifted by the gods, who allowed spirits access to the material world on Samhain night. The spirits of all who had died in the preceding year were said to wander the streets on that night, creating a kind of chaos as the two worlds collided.

The living honored the spirits who had returned to them with entertainment and gifts left outside for them. They believed that in return for the gifts and treats, the spirits would ensure a good harvest of crops for the coming year. However, in order to keep from being possessed, people would also darken their homes and go out dressed in frightening costumes. They would make noise and perform rituals to keep the spirits away. These customs eventually evolved into what is known today as trick or treating.

Other traditions associated with Halloween are largely based on superstitions surrounding the supernatural as well. Traditional Halloween costumes such as witches, werewolves, ghosts and goblins are associated with supernatural beings. Creatures that symbolize bad luck are also common Halloween symbols. These include black cats, spiders and bats. One of the most popular Halloween symbols, the jack o'lantern, gets its name from a British folktale about a character same Stingy Jack who made a deal with the devil. According to the legend, the spirit of Stingy Jack was condemned to wander the earth with a lantern for all of eternity because neither God nor the devil would claim his soul. Interestingly, the first jack o'lanterns were carved from large turnips rather than pumpkins!

The name Halloween originated with Christianity. The Catholic celebration of All Saints Day on November 1st enveloped the pagan ritual of Samhain when the Romans conquered the Celts. October 31st, the eve of All Saints Day, became known Hallowmas or Hallows Eve, and, eventually Halloween.

Date of Celebration

Halloween is celebrated as a major holiday mainly in the United States and Canada, though several other countries do recognize the day with simple rituals, such as lighting candles on Halloween night to honor the dead.

If you like to send ecards, there are a lot of fun choices for Halloween. Halloween is celebrated on October 31st of each year, so be sure your greeting card will reach is destination by then.

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