|Halloween or Hallowe'en is a holiday on the night of October
31 that is celebrated in much of the Western world, nowhere more enthusiastically
than in the US, although most Western countries recognise it as an official
date. The eve is that before All Saints' Day, November 1— hence its
alternative name: All Saints' Eve or All Hallows' Eve. In Catholic tradition
All Saints' Day is a time of holy obligation. If this day, originally simply
honoring all the departed faithful, now also helps the faithful to recall
to mind the reality of Hell, it is only through its association with Hallowe'en.
Various traditions it, and indeed even to this day people of different religious persuasions celebrate "Halloween" in quite different ways. Certain customs long surviving in Ireland, were brought to the United States by Irish emigrants in the 19th century.
A variation on Halloween is "Punkie Night" which is observed the last Thursday in October in the village of Hinton St. George in the county of Somerset in England
The jack o'lantern is one of Halloween's most prominent symbols. In Britain and Ireland, a turnip was, and sometimes still is, used but emigrants to America quickly adopted the pumpkin since it is much easier to carve. Families that celebrate Halloween will carve a pumpkin into a scary or comical face, and place a candle inside the hollowed out shell, creating a crude lantern. This is then placed on the home's doorstep on Halloween night in order to scare evil spirits away.
A variant of a Jack o'Lantern carried on a string is a feature of Punkie Night, celebrated the fourth Thursday of October in the village of Hinton St. George, Somerset. (In England, Celtic customs and language have lingered longest in the southwest.) For Punkie Night, children carry lanterns made from hollowed-out mangel-wurzels (these days pumpkins are used) with faces cut out of them around the village boundary, collecting money and singing the punkie song. Punkie is derived from pumpkin or punk, meaning tinder. Though the custom is only attested over the last century, and the mangel wurzel itself was introduced into English agriculture in the later 18th century, "Punkie Night" appears to be much older, older even than the fable that now accounts for it, in which the wives of Hinton St. George went looking for their wayward husbands at the fair held nearby at Chiselborough, the last Thursday in October, but first hollowed out mangel wurzels in order to make lanterns to light their way. The laboriously improvised lanterns are not so easily explained, but the reaction of drunken husbands to the eerie lights is perhaps more telling: they immediately identified the lights as "goolies," the restless spirits of children who had died before they were baptized — and fled in terror! Children carry the punkies now. The event has spread since ca 1960 to the neighboring village of Chiselborough.
Sources: on-line report from the Western Gazette and a National Geographic radio segment. Chiselborough Fair is memorialized by Fair Place in the village. The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868) reported that there was "a fair for horses and cattle on the last Thursday in October."
Trick or Treating
The main event of Halloween is trick-or-treating, or guising, in which
children dress up in costume disguises, and go door-to-door in their neighbourhood,
ringing the bell and yelling "trick or treat!" or "Halloween
apples!" The occupant of the house may then ask the child to do a
party trick before giving some small candies, miniature chocolate bars
or other individually wrapped treats as a reward. However the party trick
is often dispensed with. Children can often accumulate quite a lot of
treats on Halloween night, filling up entire pillow cases or shopping
Typical Halloween costumes have traditionally been monsters such as vampires, ghosts, witches, and devil. In 19th century Ireland the reason for wearing such fearsome costumes was the belief that since the spirits that were abroad that night were essentially intent on doing harm, the best way to avoid this was to fool the spirits into believing that you were one of them. In recent years however, more contemporary costume ideas have also become popular, such as dressing up as a character from a popular TV show or movie. It's not uncommon for Halloween participants to celebrate by wearing costumes related to a specific theme or time. In 2001, after the September 11 Attacks, for example, costumes of firefighters, police officers, and United States military personnel became popular amongst children.
Trick or Treating usually ends when a child enters his or her teenage years. Teenagers and adults instead often celebrate Halloween with costume parties or other social get-togethers.
A related aspect of the Trick or Treating event is that people often decorate their house in the Halloween spirit. Jack O'Lanterns are, of course, quite popular and the theme tends to be spooky including ghosts, goblins, witches, etc. These may be quite elaborate such as sound effects and fog machines. The occupants of the house may dress up and answer the door in spooky attire which can sometimes scare young Trick or Treaters.
There are several traditional games associated with Halloween parties. The most common is bobbing for apples, in which a tub or a large basin is filled with water in which apples float. The participants must remove an apple from the basin using only their mouths. Naturally everyone gets wet. 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 which inevitably leads to a very sticky face.
A number of the games traditionally played at Halloween are forms of divination. Another game, Púicíní (pronounced "pook-eeny"), a form of "Blindfold", is played in Ireland. A blindfolded person was seated in front of a table on which are placed several saucers. The saucers are shuffled and the seated person then chooses one by touch. The contents of the saucer determine the person's life for the following year. A saucer containing earth means someone known to the player will die during the next year. A saucer containing water foretells travel, a coin means new wealth, a bean means poverty, etc. In 19th century Ireland young women placed slugs in saucers sprinkled with flour. The wriggling of the slugs and the patterns subsequently left behind on the saucers were believed to portray the faces of the women's future spouses.
In North America, unmarried women were frequently told 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 - or a skull if they were destined to die before they married. The custom was widespread enough to be commemorated on greeting cards from the late nineteenth century.
A Halloween custom which has survived unchanged to this day in Ireland is the baking, or, more often nowadays, the purchase of a barm brack (Ir. "báirín breac"). This is a light fruit cake into which a plain ring is placed before baking. It is said that whoever finds this ring will find his or her true love over the following year.