Halloween or Hallowe’en (/ˌhæləˈwiːn, -oʊˈiːn, ˌhɑːl-/; a contraction of “All Hallows’ Evening”), also known as Allhalloween, All Hallows’ Eve, or All Saints’ Eve, is a yearly
celebration observed in a number of countries on 31 October, the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day. It initiates the triduum of Allhallowtide, the time in the
liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed believers. Within Allhallowtide, the traditional focus of All
Hallows’ Eve revolves around the theme of using “humor and ridicule to confront the power of death.”
According to many scholars, All Hallows’ Eve is a Christianized feast initially influenced by Celtic harvest festivals, with possible pagan roots, particularly the Gaelic Samhain.
Other scholars maintain that it originated independently of Samhain and has solely Christian roots.
Typical festive Halloween activities include trick-or-treating (or the related “guising”), attending costume parties, decorating, carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns, lighting
bonfires, apple bobbing, visiting haunted house attractions, playing pranks, telling scary stories, and watching horror films. In many parts of the world, the Christian religious
observances of All Hallows’ Eve, including attending church services and lighting candles on the graves of the dead, remain popular, although in other locations, these solemn
customs are less pronounced in favour of a more commercialized and secularized celebration. Because many Western Christian denominations encourage, although no
longer require, abstinence from meat on All Hallows’ Eve, the tradition of eating certain vegetarian foods for this vigil day developed, including the consumption of apples,
colcannon, cider, potato pancakes, and soul cakes.
The word Halloween or Hallowe’en dates to about 1745 and is of Christian origin. The word “Halloween” means “hallowed evening” or “holy evening”. It comes from a Scottish
term for All Hallows’ Eve (the evening before All Hallows’ Day). In Scots, the word “eve” is even, and this is contracted to e’en or een. Over time, (All) Hallow(s) Eve(n)
evolved into Halloween. Although the phrase “All Hallows'” is found in Old English (ealra hālgena mæssedæg, all saints mass-day), “All Hallows’ Eve” is itself not seen until
Trick-or-Treating and Guising:
Trick-or-treating is a customary celebration for children on Halloween. Children go in 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 “threat” to perform mischief on the homeowners or their property if no treat is given. The practice is said to have roots in
the medieval practice of mumming, which is closely related to souling (discussed above). John Pymm writes that “many of the feast days associated with the presentation of
mumming plays were celebrated by the Christian Church.” These feast days included All Hallows’ Eve, Christmas, Twelfth Night and Shrove Tuesday. Mumming, practised in
Germany, Scandinavia and other parts of Europe, involved masked persons in fancy dress who “paraded the streets and entered houses to dance or play dice in silence.”
Their “basic narrative framework is the story of St. George and the Seven Champions of Christendom.”
In England, from the medieval period, up until the 1930s, people practiced the Christian custom of souling on Halloween, which involved groups of soulers, both Protestant and
Catholic, going from parish to parish, begging the rich for soul cakes, in exchange for praying for the souls of the givers and their friends. In Scotland and Ireland, guising –
children disguised in costume going from door to door for food or coins – is a traditional Halloween custom, and is recorded in Scotland at Halloween in 1895 where
masqueraders in disguise carrying lanterns made out of scooped out turnips, visit homes to be rewarded with cakes, fruit and money. The practice of guising at Halloween in
North America is first recorded in 1911, where a newspaper in Kingston, Ontario reported children going “guising” around the neighborhood.
Souling was a Christian practice carried out in many English towns on Halloween and Christmas
American historian and author Ruth Edna Kelley of Massachusetts wrote the first book length history of Halloween in the US; The Book of Hallowe’en (1919), and references
souling in the chapter “Hallowe’en in America”:
The taste in Hallowe’en festivities now is to study old traditions, and hold a Scotch party, using Burns’ poem Hallowe’en as a guide; or to go a-souling as the English used. In
short, no custom that was once honored at Hallowe’en is out of fashion now.
In her book, Kelley touches on customs that arrived from across the Atlantic; “Americans have fostered them, and are making this an occasion something like what it must have
been in its best days overseas. All Halloween customs in the United States are borrowed directly or adapted from those of other countries”. While the first reference to
“guising” in North America occurs in 1911, another reference to ritual begging on Halloween appears, place unknown, in 1915, with a third reference in Chicago in 1920.
Hallowe’en provided an opportunity for real strenuous fun. No real damage was done except to the temper of some who had to hunt for wagon wheels, gates, wagons, barrels,
etc., much of which decorated the front street. The youthful tormentors were at back door and front demanding edible plunder by the word “trick or treat” to which the inmates
gladly responded and sent the robbers away rejoicing.
The thousands of Halloween postcards produced between the turn of the 20th century and the 1920s commonly show children but not trick-or-treating. The editor of a collection
of over 3,000 vintage Halloween postcards writes, “There are cards which mention the custom [of trick-or-treating] or show children in costumes at the doors, but as far as we
can tell they were printed later than the 1920s and more than likely even the 1930s. Tricksters of various sorts are shown on the early postcards, but not the means of
appeasing them”. Trick-or-treating does not seem to have become a widespread practice until the 1930s, with the first U.S. appearances of the term in 1934, and the first use in
a national publication occurring in 1939.
A popular variant of trick-or-treating, known as trunk-or-treating (or Halloween tailgaiting), occurs when “children are offered treats from the trunks of cars parked in a church
parking lot,” or sometimes, a school parking lot. In a trunk-or-treat event, the trunk (boot) of each automobile is decorated with a certain theme, such as those of children’s
literature, movies, scripture, and job roles. Because the traditional style of trick-or-treating was made impossible after Hurricane Katrina, trunk-or-treating provided comfort to
those whose homes were devastated. Trunk-or-treating has grown in popularity due to its perception as being more safe than going door to door, a point that resonates well
with parents, as well as the fact that it “solves the rural conundrum in which homes [are] built a half-mile apart”.
Halloween costumes are traditionally modeled after supernatural figures such as vampires, monsters, ghosts, skeletons, witches, and devils. Over time, in the United States
the costume selection extended to include popular characters from fiction, celebrities, and generic archetypes such as ninjas and princesses.
Dressing up in costumes and going “guising” was prevalent in Ireland and Scotland at Halloween by the late 19th century. Costuming became popular for Halloween parties in
the US in the early 20th century, as often for adults as for children. The first mass-produced Halloween costumes appeared in stores in the 1930s when trick-or-treating was
becoming popular in the United States.
Rev. Dr. Eddie J. Smith, in his book Halloween, Hallowed Be Thy Name, offers a religious perspective to the wearing of costumes on All Hallows’ Eve, suggesting that by
dressing up as creatures “who at one time caused us to fear and tremble”, people are able to poke fun at Satan “whose kingdom has been plundered by our Saviour.” Images
of skeletons and the dead are traditional decorations used as memento mori.
Games and Other Activities:
There are several games traditionally associated with Halloween parties. One common game is dunking or apple bobbing, which may be called “dooking” in Scotland in which
apples float in a tub or a large basin of water and the participants must use their teeth to remove an apple from the basin. The practice is thought by some to have derived from
the Roman practices in celebration of Pomona. A variant of dunking involves kneeling on a chair, holding a fork between the teeth and trying to drive the fork into an apple.
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 that inevitably leads to a very sticky face.
Some games traditionally played at Halloween are forms of divination. In All Hallows’ Eve celebrations during the Middle Ages, these activities historically occurred only in rural
areas of medieval Europe and were only done by a “rare few” as these were considered to be “deadly serious” practices. A traditional Scottish form of divining one’s future
spouse is to carve an apple in one long strip, then toss the peel over one’s shoulder. The peel is believed to land in the shape of the first letter of the future spouse’s name.
Unmarried women were 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.
However, if they were destined to die before marriage, a skull would appear. The custom was widespread enough to be commemorated on greeting cards from the late 19th
century and early 20th century.
Another game/superstition that was enjoyed in the early 1900s involved walnut shells. People would write fortunes in milk on white paper. After drying, the paper was folded
and placed in walnut shells. When the shell was warmed, milk would turn brown therefore the writing would appear on what looked like blank paper. Folks would also play
fortune teller. In order to play this game, symbols were cut out of paper and placed on a platter. Someone would enter a dark room and was ordered to put her hand on a
piece of ice then lay it on a platter. Her “fortune” would stick to the hand. Paper symbols included: dollar sign-wealth, button-bachelorhood, thimble-spinsterhood, clothespin-
poverty, rice-wedding, umbrella- journey, caldron-trouble, 4-leaf clover- good luck, penny-fortune, ring-early marriage, and key-fame.
The telling of ghost stories and viewing of horror films are common fixtures of Halloween parties. Episodes of television series and Hallowe’en-themed specials (with the
specials usually aimed at children) are commonly aired on or before Halloween, while new horror films are often released theatrically before Halloween to take advantage of
On All Hallows’ Eve, many Western Christian denominations encourage abstinence from meat, giving rise to a variety of vegetarian foods associated with this day.
Because in the Northern Hemisphere Halloween comes in the wake of the yearly apple harvest, candy apples (known as toffee apples outside North America), caramel or taffy
apples are common Halloween treats made by rolling whole apples in a sticky sugar syrup, sometimes followed by rolling them in nuts.
At one time, candy apples were commonly given to trick-or-treating children, but the practice rapidly waned in the wake of widespread rumors that some individuals were
embedding items like pins and razor blades in the apples in the United States. While there is evidence of such incidents, relative to the degree of reporting of such cases,
actual cases involving malicious acts are extremely rare and have never resulted in serious injury. Nonetheless, many parents assumed that such heinous practices were
rampant because of the mass media. At the peak of the hysteria, some hospitals offered free X-rays of children’s Halloween hauls in order to find evidence of tampering.
Virtually all of the few known candy poisoning incidents involved parents who poisoned their own children’s candy.
One custom that persists in modern-day Ireland is the baking (or more often nowadays, the purchase) of a barmbrack (Irish: báirín breac), which is a light fruitcake, into which a
plain ring, a coin and other charms are placed before baking. It is said that those who get a ring will find their true love in the ensuing year. This is similar to the tradition of king
cake at the festival of Epiphany.
List of foods associated with Halloween:
Bonfire toffee (Great Britain)
Candy apples/toffee apples (Great Britain and Ireland)
Candy apples, Candy corn, candy pumpkins (North America)
Monkey nuts (peanuts in their shells) (Scotland and Ireland)
Colcannon (Ireland; see below)
Novelty candy shaped like skulls, pumpkins, bats, worms, etc.
Pumpkin, pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread
Roasted pumpkin seeds
Roasted sweet corn
Around the World:
The traditions and importance of Halloween vary greatly among countries that observe it. In Scotland and Ireland, traditional Halloween customs include children dressing up in
costume going “guising”, holding parties, while other practices in Ireland include lighting bonfires, and having firework displays. In Brittany children would set candles in skulls
in graveyards. Mass transatlantic immigration in the 19th century popularized Halloween in North America, and celebration in the United States and Canada has had a significant
impact on how the event is observed in other nations. This larger North American influence, particularly in iconic and commercial elements, has extended to places such as
South America, Australia, New Zealand, (most) continental Europe, Japan, and other parts of East Asia. In the Philippines, on the night of Halloween, Filipinos return to their
hometowns and purchase candles and flowers, in preparation for the following All Saints Day and All Souls Day (Araw ng Patay) on 1 November.