Halloween is a holiday observed around the world every year on October 31. The holiday is characterized by activities such as participating in costume parties, trick-or-treating, bonfires, and visits to haunted attractions, carving jack-o-lanterns, apple bobbing, playing pranks, watching horror films, divination, and telling scary stories. Celebrations normally include parades and festivals. The holiday is also referred to as Hallows’ Eve or All Saints Eve. Samhain and All Saints Day are two holidays that are cited as having a strong influence on modern day Halloween.
The origin of Halloween is debatable. Some authorities trace the origin to an ancient Roman feast, which celebrated the fruits and seeds goddess called Pomona. Others trace its beginning to Parentalia, which was a festival of the dead in ancient Roman tradition. However, majority trace it to Samhain, which was a Celtic festival. Samhain was notably a season for festive gatherings. Medieval Irish, Welsh, and Scottish texts and folklore describe Samhain as a period of supernatural encounters. Irish myths, which describe Samhain, were texts of the 10th and 11th centuries written by Christian monks. This is approximately 200 years after the inauguration of All Saints Day by the Catholic Church, and 400 years after the Irish nation became Christian. The term Halloween was first used in the 16th century as a Scottish variant of All-Hallows-Evening, which referred to the eve of All Hallows Day.
Over time, specific artifacts and symbols came to be associated with the holiday. An example is carving jack-o-lanterns. This activity can be traced from the “souling” custom of which transforming turnips to lanterns was considered a way of rekindling the memories of souls held in purgatory. In Ireland and Scotland, the use of turnips during Halloween is traditional. However, immigrants to North America use the native pumpkin as an alternative, given its availability and largeness (Arkins, 2004). In the United States of America, carving turnips was traditionally done during harvest time, and it was not linked to Halloween until in the 19th century.
Horror literature, national customs, and gothic traditions are the major sources of the imagery of Halloween. Novels like “Dracula,” classic horror films like “The Mummy,” and religious symbols like the Swastika have a big influence on the images representing Halloween. During Halloween celebrations, houses are decorated with scarecrows, pumpkins and cornhusks, some of which are elements found during the autumn season. Themes making up the Halloween season revolve around death, the occult, mythical monsters or evil. The traditional colors of choice during the holiday are black and orange. Black color has for a very long time been associated with the underworld and evil. The choice of orange color could signify the flames or the power within dead and alive souls (Rodgers, 2002).
Trick-or-treating is a traditional celebration for children during Halloween. The children put on costumes and move from house to house seeking to be given treats, like candy or money, using the question “Trick or treat?” The term “trick” is usually used to threaten the homeowner with magic or mischief if he/she fails to give the child something good (a treat). However, this threat is usually idle. Another activity done by children during Halloween is “Guising.” Guising is a bit different from trick-or-treating, as the child offers a trick, like singing or telling a ghost story, in order to earn the treat (Arkins, 2004).
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The costumes won during Halloween are based on supernatural figures. These include witches, monsters, devils, skeletons, mermaids, and ghosts. However, time has seen the inclusion of popular fiction characters, celebrities and other imaginary characters like superman and ninjas.
Children also play various games during Halloween. For instance, there is the apple bobbing game in which children remove a floating apple in a basin using their teeth. Other games revolve around divination, of which fortune telling is the main activity, and general merry-making.
In modern times, Halloween has become more appreciated. Despite protests from religious bodies and parents, the holiday has proved that it is not only here to stay, but also beneficial. One benefit of Halloween has been demonstrated in North America where trick-or-treating has been used to generate funds for UNICEF.