2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Recreation

A jack-o'-lantern
Also called All Hallows Eve
All Saints' Eve
Hallowed End
Observed by United Kingdom, United States, Ireland, Canada, New Zealand, sometimes Australia and many Latin American countries where it is known as Noche de las Brujas (Night of the Witches)
Type Religious, Cultural (celebrated mostly irrespective of religion)
Significance There are many sources of Halloween's significance
Date October 31
Celebrations Trick-or-treating, ghost tours, bobbing for apples, costume parties, carving jack-o'-lanterns, bonfires, and fireworks (in Ireland)

Halloween, Hallowe'en, or Holloween is a holiday celebrated on the night of October 31. Halloween activities include trick-or-treating, ghost tours, bonfires, costume parties, visiting "haunted houses", and carving Jack-o'-lanterns. Irish immigrants carried versions of the tradition to North America in the nineteenth century. Other western countries embraced the holiday in the late twentieth century. Halloween is celebrated in several countries of the Western world, most commonly in Ireland, the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and occasionally in parts of Australia.


The modern holiday of Halloween has its origins in the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain (Irish pronunciation: [ˈsˠaunʲ]; from the Old Irish samain). The festival of Samhain is a celebration of the end of the harvest season in Gaelic culture, and is sometimes regarded as the "Celtic New Year". Traditionally, the festival was a time used by the ancient pagans to take stock of supplies and slaughter livestock for winter stores. The ancient Gaels believed that on October 31, the boundary between the alive and the deceased dissolved, and the dead become dangerous for the living by causing problems such as sickness or damaged crops. The festivals would frequently involve bonfires, where the bones of slaughtered livestock were thrown. Costumes and masks were also worn at the festivals in an attempt to mimic the evil spirits or placate them.

History of name

The term Halloween (and its alternative rendering Hallowe'en) is shortened from All-hallow-even, as it is the eve of "All Hallows' Day", which is now also known as All Saints' Day. It was a day of religious festivities in various northern European Pagan traditions, until Popes Gregory III and Gregory IV moved the old Christian feast of All Saints' Day from May 13 (which had itself been the date of a pagan holiday, the Feast of the Lemures) to November 1. In the ninth century, the Church measured the day as starting at sunset, in accordance with the Florentine calendar. Although All Saints' Day is now considered to occur one day after Halloween, the two holidays were, at that time, celebrated on the same day. Liturgically, the Church traditionally celebrated that day as the Vigil of All Saints, and, until 1970, a day of fasting as well. Like other vigils, it was celebrated on the previous day if it fell on a Sunday, although secular celebrations of the holiday remained on the 31st. The Vigil was suppressed in 1955, but was later restored in the post-Vatican II calendar.


A toy Jack-o'-lantern sits among an array of other Halloween items.
A toy Jack-o'-lantern sits among an array of other Halloween items.

The carved pumpkin, lit by a candle inside, is one of Halloween's most prominent symbols, and is commonly called a jack-o'-lantern. These lanterns were originally carved from a turnip or swede (or more uncommonly a mangelwurzel), although skulls were previously used. The jack-o'-lantern can be traced back to the Irish legend of Stingy Jack, a greedy, gambling, hard-drinking old farmer. He tricked the devil into climbing a tree and trapped him by carving a cross into the tree trunk. In revenge, the devil placed a curse on Jack, condemning him to forever wander the earth at night. This story has been passed down through generations of Irish families. The carving of pumpkins is associated with Halloween in North America, where pumpkins were readily available and much larger, making them easier to carve than turnips. Many families that celebrate Halloween carve a pumpkin into a frightening or comical face and place it on their home's doorstep after dark. In America the tradition of carving pumpkins is known to have preceded the Great Famine period of Irish immigration. The tradition of carving vegetable lanterns may have been brought over by the Scottish or English--documentation is unavailable to establish when or by whom. The carved pumpkin was originally associated with harvest time in general in America and did not become specifically associated with Halloween until the mid-to-late 19th century.

The imagery surrounding Halloween is largely an amalgamation of the Halloween season itself, nearly a century of work from American filmmakers and graphic artists, and a rather commercialized take on the dark and mysterious. Halloween imagery tends to involve death, magic, or mythical monsters. Traditional characters include ghosts, ghouls, witches, vampires, bats, owls, crows, vultures, pumpkinmen, black cats, spiders, goblins, zombies, mummies, skeletons, and demons.

Particularly in America, symbolism is inspired by classic horror films, which contain fictional figures like Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, and The Mummy. Elements of the autumn season, such as pumpkins and scarecrows, are also prevalent. Homes are often decorated with these types of symbols around Halloween.

Black and orange are the traditional colours of Halloween.

Colour associations
Colour Symbolism
Black death, night, witches, black cats, bats, vampires, fear, ghostliness, silence
Orange pumpkins, Jack O' lanterns, Autumn, the turning leaves, fire, sunset

Trick-or-treating and guising

United States and Canada

Typical Halloween scene in Dublin, Ireland.
Typical Halloween scene in Dublin, Ireland.

The main event for children of modern Halloween in the United States and Canada is trick-or-treating, in which children disguise themselves in costumes and go door-to-door in their neighborhoods, ringing each doorbell and yelling "trick or treat!" to solicit a gift of candy or similar items. Although the practice resembles the older tradition of "souling" in Ireland and Scotland, ritual "begging" on Halloween does not appear in English-speaking North America until the 20th century, and may have developed independently. Upon receiving trick-or-treaters, the house occupants (who might also be in costume) often hand out small candies, miniature chocolate bars, nuts, loose change, soda pop, stickers, or even crayons and pencils. Some homes will use sound effects and fog machines to help establish an eerie atmosphere. Other less scary house decoration themes might be used to entertain younger visitors. Children can often accumulate many treats on Halloween night, filling up entire pillow cases, pumpkin-shaped buckets, shopping bags, or large plastic containers. Another way some teens may amuse themselves is by finding a house with candy they like and going back to it over and over with different masks on. Large parties are commonly held on Halloween in which games like bobbing for apples and spooky story telling are common.


All over Ireland, huge bonfires are lit. Young children in disguise are warmly received by their neighbors with gifts of "fruit, miniature chocolate bars, loose change, peanuts and of course sweets" for the "Halloween Party", whilst their older male siblings play innocent pranks on bewildered victims. Some homes will put up decorations including Halloween lights. Children have the week off from school for Halloween, and it is common for teenagers and for college students to spend weeknights out and about with friends, pranking and causing mischief, if not trick-or-treating themselves, and perhaps even "egging" [throwing eggs at] houses, drinking alcohol, throwing bangers and setting off fireworks.


In Scotland, children are known as "guisers", though this term is now going into decline. In the past, the children going guising would dress in various (often home-made) costumes and disguises: hence (dis)'guisers'. The most popular costumes were skeletons, witches and various forms of scary fiends, complete with papier-mâché masks, though nurses' or cowboys' outfits were also given a rather incongruous outing. They would then form small bands of mixed-age children, the older ones trailing their younger siblings behind them, and venture out into the darkness each with their lantern. Until at least the 1970s the traditional Halloween light carried by Scottish children was not the now ubiquitous pumpkin but a 'tumshie lantern' made, as with a pumpkin, by hollowing out a very large swede/yellow turnip ("tumshie" in the West of Scotland dialect of Scots) and carving a scary face, through which shone the candle inside. Then, each carrying their tumshie lantern, they would knock on all the neighbours' doors where the eldest or boldest of the group would ask, "Are ye wantin' any guisers?". If the answer was yes, the children would be invited inside where the grown-ups would pretend to try to guess the identity of each guiser, who then had to impress the company with a song, poem, trick, joke or dance—known as their 'party piece'—in order to earn treats. Today, however, they simply say "trick or treat" in order to earn sweets. Traditionally, nuts, oranges, apples and dried fruit as well as "sweeties" were offered, though children might earn a small amount of cash, usually no more than 50p. In some houses the neighbours would have prepared a pail or basin filled with apples ready for the game of 'dookin' for apples'. The children had to 'dook' ( Scots) their faces into the water with their hands behind their backs to try to pick up an apple by biting into it.

England and Wales

In England and Wales, trick-or-treating does occur, although the practice is regarded by some as a nuisance or even a menacing form of begging. In some areas, households have started to put decorations on the front door to indicate that trick-or-treaters are welcome, the idea being that trick-or-treaters will avoid a house not participating in the custom. Tricks currently play a less prominent role, though Halloween night is often marked by vandalism such as soaping windows, egging houses or stringing toilet paper through trees. More serious vandalism often occurs in the form of damage caused by fireworks. The holiday's date being close to the English celebration of 'Bonfire Night' on November 5th, which is traditionally celebrated with fireworks displays, means that those who do with to cause more serious mischief find them to be easily attainable.

In Welsh, Halloween is known as Nos Galan Gaeaf (the beginning of the new year). Spirits are said to walk around and a "white lady" ghost is sometimes said to appear. Bonfires are lit on hillsides to mark the night.


Halloween costumes are traditionally those of monsters such as vampires, ghosts, skeletons, witches, and devils. Costumes are also based on themes other than traditional horror, such as those of characters from television shows, movies and other pop culture icons.

Costume sales

BIGresearch conducted a survey for the National Retail Federation in the United States and found that 53.3% of consumers planned to buy a costume for Halloween 2005, spending $38.11 on average (up 10 dollars from the year before). They were also expected to spend $4.96 billion in 2006, up significantly from just $3.3 billion the previous year.


"'Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF" has become a common sight during Halloween in North America. Started as a local event in a Philadelphia suburb in 1950, and expanded nationally in 1952, the program involves the distribution of small boxes by schools (or in modern times, corporate sponsors like Hallmark at their licensed stores) to trick-or-treaters, in which they can solicit small change donations from the houses they visit. It is estimated that children have collected more than $119 million (US) for UNICEF since its inception. In 2006, UNICEF discontinued their Halloween collection boxes in parts of the world, citing safety and administrative concerns.

Games and other activities

In this Halloween greeting card from 1904, divination is depicted: the young woman looking into a mirror in a darkened room hopes to catch a glimpse of the face of her future husband.
In this Halloween greeting card from 1904, divination is depicted: the young woman looking into a mirror in a darkened room hopes to catch a glimpse of the face of her future husband.

There are several games traditionally associated with Halloween parties. The most common is dooking or bobbing for apples, in which apples float in a tub or a large basin of water; the participants must use their teeth to remove an apple from the basin. A variant of dooking involves kneeling on a chair, holding a fork between the teeth and trying to drop 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 which inevitably leads to a very sticky face.

Some games traditionally played at Halloween are forms of divination. In Puicíní (pronounced "poocheeny"), a game played in Ireland, a blindfolded person is seated in front of a table on which several saucers are placed. The saucers are shuffled and the seated person then chooses one by touch. The contents of the saucer determine the person's life during the following year. A saucer containing earth means someone known to the player will die during the next year, a saucer containing water foretells emigration, a ring foretells marriage, a set of Rosary beads indicates that the person will take Holy Orders (becoming a nun or a priest). A coin means new wealth, a bean means poverty, and so on. In 19th century Ireland, young women placed slugs in saucers sprinkled with flour. A traditional Irish and 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. This custom has survived among Irish and Scottish immigrants in the rural United States.

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. 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 nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The telling of ghost stories and viewing of horror films are common fixtures of Halloween parties. Episodes of TV series and specials with Halloween themes (with the specials usually aimed at children) are commonly aired on or before the holiday while new horror films, like the popular Saw films, are often released theatrically before the holiday to take advantage of the atmosphere.

Visiting a haunted attraction like a haunted house or hayride (especially in the northeastern or midwest of the USA) are other Halloween practices. Notwithstanding the name, such events are not necessarily held in houses, nor are the edifices themselves necessarily regarded to have actual ghosts. A variant of the haunted house is the "haunted trail", where the public encounters supernatural-themed characters or presentations of scenes from horror films while following a trail through a field or forest. One of the largest Halloween attractions in the United States is Knott's Scary Farm in California, which features re-themed amusement park rides and a dozen different walk through mazes, plus hundreds of costumed roving performers. Among other theme parks, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom stages a special separate admission event after regular park hours called Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party featuring a parade, stage show featuring Disney villains and a Happy HalloWishes fireworks show with a Halloween theme, while their sibling park in California, Disneyland Resort, holds Mickey's Halloween Treat at their California Adventure park. The Universal Studios theme parks in Hollywood and Orlando also feature annual Halloween events, dubbed Halloween Horror Nights. The Six Flags amusement parks also have Halloween events called Fright Fest in which visitors enjoy redecorated rides, costumed goals, special shows and more. Busch Gardens Howl-O-Scream Tampa Bay and Busch Gardens Howl-O-Scream Williamsburg also host a few weeks of Halloween-themed fun. There are many haunted houses each with a different theme, "scare zones" where costumed performers scare random passerby, live shows, special themed food and much more.


Candy apple
Candy apple

Because the holiday comes in the wake of the annual apple harvest, candy apples (also known as toffee, taffy or caramel apples) are a common Halloween treat made by rolling whole apples in a sticky sugar syrup, and sometimes rolling them in nuts. At one time, candy apples were commonly given to 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. While there is evidence of such incidents, they are quite rare and have never resulted in serious injury. Nonetheless, many parents assumed that such heinous practices were rampant; 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, while there have been occasional reports of children putting needles in their own (and other children's) candy in a mere bid for attention.

One custom which persists in modern-day day Ireland is the baking (or more often nowadays the purchase) of a barmbrack (Irish "báirín breac"), which is a light fruit cake into which a plain ring is placed before baking. It is said that those who get a ring will find their true love in the ensuing year. See also king cake.

Other foods associated with the holiday:

  • Candy corn
  • Báirín Breac (Ireland)
  • Colcannon (Ireland)
  • Bonfire toffee (in the UK)
  • Toffee Apple (Australia when celebrated, England, Wales and Scotland, instead of "Candy Apples")
  • Apple cider
  • Cider
  • Roasted sweetcorn
  • Popcorn
  • Roasted pumpkin seeds
  • Pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread
  • "Fun-sized" or individually wrapped pieces of small candy, typically in Halloween colors of orange, and brown/black.
  • Novelty candy shaped like skulls, pumpkins, bats, worms, etc.
  • Small bags of chips, pretzels and cheese corn
  • Chocolates, caramels, and gum
  • Nuts

Around the world

Snap-Apple Night by Daniel Maclise portrays a Halloween party in Blarney, Ireland, in 1832. The young people on the left side play various divination games, while children on the right bob for apples. A couple in the center play "Snap-Apple", which involves retrieving an apple hanging from a string
Snap-Apple Night by Daniel Maclise portrays a Halloween party in Blarney, Ireland, in 1832. The young people on the left side play various divination games, while children on the right bob for apples. A couple in the centre play "Snap-Apple", which involves retrieving an apple hanging from a string


Halloween is very popular in Ireland, where it originated, and is known in Irish as Oíche Shamhna (pron: ee-hah how-nah), literally "Samhain Night". Pre-Christian Celts had an autumn festival, Samhain ( pronounced /ˈsˠaunʲ/from the Old Irish samain), "End of Summer", a pastoral and agricultural "fire festival" or feast, when the dead revisited the mortal world, and large communal bonfires would hence be lit to ward off evil spirits.

Pope Gregory IV standardized the date of All Saints' Day, or All Hallows' Day, on November 1 in the name of the entire Western Church in 835. As the church day began at sunset, the holiday coincided exactly with Samhain. It is claimed that the choice of date was consistent with the common practice of leaving pagan festivals and buildings intact (e.g., the Pantheon), while overlaying a Christian meaning.. However, no reliable documentation indicates such a motivation in this case. While the Celts might have been content to move All Saints' Day from their own previous date of April 20, the rest of the world celebrating it on May 13, it is speculated without evidence that they were unwilling to give up their pre-existing autumn festival of the dead and continued to celebrate Samhain.

Unfortunately, there is frustratingly little primary documentation of how Halloween was celebrated in preindustrial Ireland. Historian Nicholas Rogers has written,

It is not always easy to track the development of Halloween in Ireland and Scotland from the mid-seventeenth century, largely because one has to trace ritual practices from [modern] folkloric evidence that do not necessarily reflect how the holiday might have changed; these rituals may not be "authentic" or "timeless" examples of pre-industrial times.

On Halloween night in present-day Ireland, adults and children dress up as creatures from the underworld (e.g., ghosts, ghouls, zombies, witches and goblins), light bonfires, and enjoy spectacular fireworks displays – in particular, the city of Derry is home to the largest organised Halloween celebration on the island, in the form of a street carnival and fireworks display. It is also common for fireworks to be set off for the entire month preceding Halloween, as well as a few days after. Halloween was perceived as the night during which the division between the world of the living and the otherworld was blurred so spirits of the dead and inhabitants from the underworld were able to walk free on the earth. It was believed necessary to dress as a spirit or otherworldly creature when venturing outdoors to blend in, and this is where dressing in such a manner for Halloween comes from. This gradually evolved into trick-or-treating because children would knock on their neighbours' doors, in order to gather fruit, nuts, and sweets for the Halloween festival. Salt was once sprinkled in the hair of the children to protect against evil spirits.

The houses are frequently adorned with turnips carved into scary faces; lights or candles are sometimes placed inside the carvings to provide an eerie effect. The traditional Halloween cake in Ireland is the barmbrack, which is a fruit bread. Barmbrack is the centre of this Irish custom. The Halloween Brack traditionally contained various objects baked into the bread and was used as a sort of fortune-telling game. In the barmbrack were: a pea, a stick, a piece of cloth, a small coin (originally a silver sixpence) and a ring. Each item, when received in the slice, was supposed to carry a meaning to the person concerned: the pea, the person would not marry that year; the stick, "to beat one's wife with", would have an unhappy marriage or continually be in disputes; the cloth or rag, would have bad luck or be poor; the coin, would enjoy good fortune or be rich; and the ring, would be married within the year. Commercially produced barmbracks for the Halloween market still include a toy ring.

Games are often played, such as bobbing for apples, where apples, peanuts and other nuts and fruit and some small coins are placed in a basin of water. The apples and nuts float, but the coins, which sink, are harder to catch. Everyone takes turns catching as many items possible using only their mouths. In some households, the coins are embedded in the fruit for the children to "earn" as they catch each apple. Another common game involves the hands-free eating of an apple hung on a string attached to the ceiling. Games of divination are also played at Halloween, but are becoming less popular.

At lunch-time (midday meal, sometimes called "dinner" in Ireland), a traditional Halloween meal Colcannon is eaten, often with coins wrapped in grease-proof paper mixed in. In recent decades the practice of midday dinners in the home has declined and with it this traditional Halloween ritual. Irish children typically have a week-long Halloween break from school; the last Monday in October is a public holiday in the Republic of Ireland, given as Halloween even though they often do not fall on the same day.


Scotland, having a shared Gaelic culture and language with Ireland, has celebrated the festival of Samhain (Pronounced Sow-win) robustly for many centuries. The autumn festival is pre-Christian Celtic in origin, and is known in Scottish Gaelic as Oidhche Shamhna the “End of Summer”. During the fire festival, souls of the dead wander the earth and are free to return to the mortal world until dawn. Traditionally bonfires and lanterns (samhnag) in Scottish Gaelic, would be lit to ward off the phantoms and evil spirits that emerge at midnight. The term Samhainn or Samhuinn is used for the harvest feast, and an t-Samhain is used for the entire month of November.

As in Ireland the exact customs involved with celebrating Halloween from ancient times to pre-industrialised Scotland are lost and lack primary documentation, to distinguish the ancient customs from the modern counterpart. The Witchcraft Act of 1735 contained a clause preventing the consumption of pork and pastry comestibles on Halloween although in modern times such treats are a popular treat for children; the act was repealed in the 1950s. Scotland's National Bard Robert Burns portrayed the varied custom for children to dress up in costumes in his poem "Hallowe'en" (1785).

Halloween was seen as being the time when the division between the world of the living and the otherworld was blurred. Many of the traditional customs derive from ancient divination practices and ways of trying to predict the future. By the 18th century, most of the customs were methods for young people to search for their future husbands or wives. As Samhainn was originally a harvest festival, many of these strange practices are connected with food or the harvest and fertility. One old custom associated with the Western Isles was to put two large nuts in the hearth of a peat fire. These were supposed to represent yourself and your intended spouse. If the nuts curled together when they warmed up then this was deemed to be a good omen, but if they jumped apart then it was time to look for another sweetheart. Islanders from Lewis traditionally poured ale into the sea in libation to a marine God called “ Seonaidh” or “Shoney”on Celtic Samhain or Halloween, so that he would send seaweed to the shore to fertilise the fields for the coming year. Seonadh in Scottish Gaelic means, sorcery, augury, or Druidism, and it is possible that the custom of Shonaidh is the direct link to an ancient form of Celtic god worship that has been Christianised. As "Seonaidh", which is Gaelic "Johnny", it may also be a reference to one of St John, and an invocation of him.

Fire rituals were also important. Great bonfires were lit in a village, or by individual families, and when the fire died down, its ashes were used to form a circle and one stone for each member of the household was kept inside this circle near the circumference. If any stone were displaced or seemed broken by next morning, then the person to whom that stone belonged was believed to be destined to die within a year. A similar rite in north Wales includes a great bonfire called Coel Coeth’ being built for each family on Halloween. Later, the members of the household threw a white stone in the ashes marked in their name. Next morning, all the stones were searched for and if any stone were missing, then the person who threw that stone was believed to be destined to die before next Halloween. In particular, the village of Fortingall in Perthshire, held festivities on Carn na Marbh ‘Mound of the Dead',. This was the focal point of a Samhain festival. A great fire or “Samhnag” was lit atop it each year. The whole community took hands when it was blazing and danced round the mound both sunwise and anti-sunwise. As the fire began to wane, some of the younger boys took burning embers from the flames and ran throughout the field with them, finally throwing them into the air and dancing over them as they lay glowing on the ground. When the last embers were showing, the boys would have a leaping competition across the remains of the fire, reminiscent of the Beltane festival. When it was finished, the young people went home and ducked for apples and practised divination. There was no Scottish tradition of 'guising' here, the bonfire being the absolute centre of attention until it was consumed. The Samhain celebrations here apparently came to an end relatively late in 1924.

In Scotland, folklore including that of Halloween, revolves around the ancient Celtic belief in faeries Sidhe” or “ Sith” in modern Gaelic. Children who ventured out carried a traditional lantern (samhnag) with a devil face carved into it, to frighten away the evil spirits. Such Halloween lanterns were made from a turnip or “ Neep” in “Lowland Scots”, with a candle lit in the hollow inside. In modern times, however, such lanterns use pumpkins, as in North American traditions, possibly, because it is easier to carve a face in a pumpkin than in a turnip. Due to this, the practice of hollowing out pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns may have its roots in this practice.

Houses were also protected with the same candle lanterns. If the spirits got past the protection of the lanterns, the Scottish custom was to offer the spirits parcels of food to leave and spare the house another year. Children too were given the added protection by disguising them as such creatures, in order to blend in with the spirits. If children approached the door of a house, they were also given offerings of food – Halloween being a harvest festival – which served to ward off the potential spirits that may lurk among them. This is where the origin of the practice of Scottish “guising” – a word which comes from 'disguising' – or going about in costume arose. It is now a key feature of the tradition of trick-or-treating practised in North America.

In modern-day Scotland this old tradition survives, chiefly in the form of children going door to door "guising", in this manner, that is, dressed in a disguise (often as a witch, ghost, monster, or another supernatural being) and offering entertainment of various sorts. If the entertainment is enjoyed, the children are rewarded with gifts of sweets, fruits, or money. There is no Scottish 'trick or treat' tradition as in North America; on the contrary, 'trick or treating' is an outgrowth of these Scottish guising customs.

Popular games played on the holiday include "dooking" for apples (i.e., retrieving an apple from a bucket of water using only one's mouth). In places, the game has been replaced (because of fears of contracting saliva-borne illnesses in the water) by standing over the bowl holding a fork in one's mouth, and releasing it in an attempt to skewer an apple using only gravity. Another popular game is attempting to eat, while blindfolded, a treacle or jam coated scone on a piece of string hanging from the ceiling. Sometimes the blindfold is left out, because it is already difficult to eat the scone. In all versions, however, the participants cannot use their hands.

In 2007, Halloween festival organisers in Perthshire said they wanted to move away from US-style celebrations, in favour of more culturally accurate traditions. Plans include abandoning the use of pumpkins, and reinstating traditional activities such as a turnip lantern competition and "dooking (ducking) for apples".

Isle of Man

The Manx traditionally celebrate Hop-tu-Naa on October 31. This ancient Celtic tradition has parallels with Scottish and Irish traditions.


All Saints' Day (All Hallows Day) became fixed on November 1 in 835, and All Souls' Day on November 2, circa 998. On All Souls' Eve, families stayed up late, and little "soul cakes" were eaten by everyone. At the stroke of midnight there was solemn silence among households, which had candles burning in every room to guide the souls back to visit their earthly homes, and a glass of wine on the table to refresh them. The tradition continued in areas of northern England as late as the 1930s, with children going from door-to-door "souling" (i.e., singing songs) for cakes or money. The English Reformation in the 16th century de-emphasised holidays like All Hallows Day or All Souls Day and their associated eve. With the rise of Guy Fawkes Night celebrations in 17th century England, most remaining Halloween practices, especially the building of bonfires, were moved to November 5.

In parts of northern England, there is a traditional festival called Mischief Night which falls on the November 4. During the celebration, children play a range of "tricks" (ranging from minor to more serious) on adults. One of the more serious "tricks" might include the unhinging of garden gates (which were often thrown into ponds, or moved far away). In recent years, such acts have occasionally escalated to extreme vandalism, sometimes involving street fires.

Halloween party reveller in themed "costume".
Halloween party reveller in themed "costume".

Halloween celebrations in England were popularised in the late twentieth century under the pressure of American cultural influence, including a stream of films and television programmes aimed at children and adolescents, and the discovery by retail experts of a marketing opportunity to fill the empty space before Christmas. Between 2001 and 2006, consumer spending in the UK for Halloween rose tenfold from £12 m to £120 m, according to Bryan Roberts from industry analysts Planet Retail, making Halloween the third most profitable holiday for supermarkets. This led to the introduction of practices such as pumpkin carvings and trick-or-treat (see below). Nowadays, adults too may dress up to attend costume parties, pub parties and club parties on Halloween night.

Bobbing for apples is a well-established Bonfire Night custom now also associated with Halloween. In the game, attempts are made with one's mouth only to catch an apple placed in a water-filled barrel. Once an apple is caught, it is sometimes peeled and tossed over the shoulder in the hope that the strips would fall into the shape of a letter, which would be the first initial of the participant's true love. According to another superstition, the longer the peel, the longer the peeler's life would be; some say that the first participant to get an apple would be the first to marry.

Other practices common to Bonfire Night and Halloween include fireworks, telling ghost stories, and playing children's games such as hide-and-seek. Apple tarts may be baked with a coin hidden inside, and nuts of all types are traditional Halloween fare. Bolder children may in some areas play a game called "thunder and lightning", which involves loudly knocking on a neighbour's door, then running away (like lightning). However, traditions are being lost under the relentless pressure of the American media, and some of today's children will arrive at a door and intone "trick-or-treat" in order to receive money and sweets.

There has been increasing concern about the potential for antisocial behaviour, particularly among older teenagers, on Halloween. Cases of houses being "egg-bombed", or having lit fireworks posted through the letterbox (especially when the occupants do not give money or gifts) have been reported, and the BBC reported that for Halloween 2006 police forces stepped up patrols to respond to such mischief.

United States and Canada

Halloween did not become a holiday in the United States until the 19th century, where lingering Puritan tradition restricted the observance of many holidays. American almanacs of the late 18th and early 19th centuries do not include Halloween in their lists of holidays. The transatlantic migration of nearly two million Irish following the Irish Potato Famine (1845-1849) finally brought the holiday to the United States. Scottish emigration, primarily to Canada before 1870 and to the United States thereafter, brought the Scottish version of the holiday to each country.

Scottish-American and Irish-American societies held dinners and balls that celebrated their heritages, with perhaps a recitation of Robert Burns' poem "Halloween" or a telling of Irish legends, much as Columbus Day celebrations were more about Italian-American heritage than Columbus per se. Home parties centred on children's activities, such as bobbing for apples, and various divination games often concerning future romance. Not surprisingly, pranks and mischief were common as well.

The commercialization of Halloween in the United States did not start until the 20th century, beginning perhaps with Halloween postcards (featuring hundreds of designs) which were most popular between 1905 and 1915. Dennison Manufacturing Company, which published its first Hallowe'en catalog in 1909, and the Beistle Company were pioneers in commercially made Halloween decorations, particularly die-cut paper items. German manufacturers specialised in Halloween figurines that were exported to the United States in the period between the two world wars.

There is little primary documentation of masking or costuming on Halloween in the United States or elsewhere, before 1900. Mass-produced Halloween costumes did not appear in stores until the 1930s, and trick-or-treating did not become a fixture of the holiday until the 1950s.

In the United States, Halloween has become the sixth most profitable holiday (after Christmas, Mother's Day, Valentines Day, Easter, and Father's Day). In the 1990s, many manufacturers began producing a larger variety of Halloween yard decorations; before this a majority of decorations were homemade. Some of the most popular yard decorations are jack-o'-lanterns, scarecrows, witches, orange string lights, inflatable decorations (such as spiders, pumpkins, mummies and vampires), and animatronic window and door decorations. Other popular decorations are foam tombstones and gargoyles.

Halloween is now the United States' second most popular holiday (after Christmas) for decorating; the sale of candy and costumes are also extremely common during the holiday, which is marketed to children and adults alike. According to the National Retail Federation, the most popular Halloween costume themes for adults are, in order: witch, pirate, vampire, cat and clown. Each year, popular costumes are dictated by various current events and pop culture icons.On many college campuses, Halloween is a major celebration, with the Friday and Saturday nearest October 31 hosting many costume parties.

The National Confectioners Association reported in 2005 that 80 percent of American adults planned to give out candy to trick-or-treaters, and that 93 percent of children planned to go trick-or-treating.

Madison, Wisconsin, home of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, hosts one of the more infamous annual Halloween celebrations. Due to the large influx of out-of-towners crowding the State Street area, riots have broken out in recent years, resulting in the use mounted police and tear gas to disperse the crowds.

Anoka, Minnesota, the self-proclaimed "Halloween Capital of the World", celebrates the holiday with a large civic parade and several other city-wide events. Salem, Massachusetts, also has laid claim to the "Halloween Capital" title, while trying to dissociate itself from its history of persecuting witchcraft. At the same time, however, the city does see a great deal of tourism surrounding the Salem witch trials, especially around Halloween. In the 1990s, the city added an official "Haunted Happenings" celebration to the October tourist season.. Nearby Keene, New Hampshire, hosts the annual Pumpkin Fest each October which previously held the record for having the greatest number of lit jack-o'-lanterns at once. (Boston, Massachusetts holds the record as of October 2006). In Atlanta, Georgia, the Little Five Points neighbourhood hosts the Little Five Points Halloween Parade on the weekend before October 31st each year.

Rutland, Vermont has hosted the annual Rutland Halloween Parade since 1960. Tom Fagan, a local comic book fan, is credited with having a hand in the parade's early development and superhero theme. In the early 1970s, the Rutland Halloween Parade achieved a degree of fame when it was used as the setting of a number of superhero comic books, including Batman #237, Justice League of America #103, Amazing Adventures #16 and The Mighty Thor #207.

Ubu Apocalypse, a presentation of over-sized papier-mâché masks at the Village Halloween Parade in New York City.
Ubu Apocalypse, a presentation of over-sized papier-mâché masks at the Village Halloween Parade in New York City.

New York City hosts the United States' largest Halloween celebration, known as The Village Halloween Parade. Started by Greenwich Village mask maker Ralph Lee in 1973, the evening parade now attracts over two million spectators and participants, as well as roughly four million television viewers annually. It is the largest participatory parade in the country if not the world, encouraging spectators to march in the parade as well.

Barbara Ehrenreich, in her book on collective joy mentions this as an example of how Halloween is transitioning from a children's holiday to an adult holiday and compares it to Mardi Gras.

In many towns and cities, trick-or-treaters are welcomed by lit porch lights and jack-o'-lanterns. In some large and/or crime ridden areas, however, trick-or-treating is discouraged, or refocused to staged trick-or-treating events within nearby shopping malls, in order to prevent potential acts of violence against trick-or-treaters. Even where crime is not an issue, many American towns have designated specific hours for trick-or-treating, e.g., 5-7 pm or 5-8 pm, to discourage late-night trick-or-treating.

Those living in the country may hold Halloween parties, often with bonfires, with the celebrants passing between them. The parties usually involve traditional games (like snipe hunting, bobbing for apples, or searching for candy in a similar manner to Easter egg hunting), haunted hayrides (often accompanied by scary stories, and costumed people hiding in the dark to jump out and scare the riders), and treats (usually a bag of candy and/or homemade treats). Scary movies may also be viewed. Normally, the children are picked up by their parents at predetermined times. However, it is not uncommon for such parties to include sleepovers.

Trick-or-treating may often end by early evening, but the nightlife thrives in many urban areas. Halloween costume parties provide an opportunity for adults to gather and socialize. Urban bars are frequented by people wearing Halloween masks and risqué costumes. Many bars and restaurants hold costume contests to attract customers to their establishments. Haunted houses are also popular in some areas.

In Western Canada, fireworks displays and a civic bonfire are part of the festivities.


In Mexico, Halloween has been celebrated during the last 40 years where the celebrations have been influenced by the American traditions, such as the costuming of children who visit the houses of their neighbourhood in search of candy. Though the "trick-or-treat" motif is used, tricks are not generally played on residents not providing candy. Older crowds of preteens, teenagers and adults will sometimes organize Halloween-themed parties, which might be scheduled on the nearest available weekend. Usually kids stop by at peoples' houses, knock on their door or the ring the bell and say "¡Noche de Brujas , Halloween!" ('Witches' Night-- Halloween!').

Halloween in Mexico begins three days of consecutive holidays, as it is followed by All Saints' Day, which also marks the beginning of the two day celebration of the Day of the Dead or the Día de los Muertos. This might account for the initial explanations of the holiday having a traditional Mexican-Catholic slant.

Australia and New Zealand

In the southern hemisphere, spring is in full swing by October 31, and the days are rapidly growing longer and brighter. This does not mesh well with the traditional Celtic spirit of Halloween, which relies on an atmosphere of the encroaching darkness of winter. However, Halloween has recently gained a large amount of recognition in Australia and New Zealand, largely due to American media influences, with many young families in Australia embracing the tradition. In 2006, costume shops reported a rise in sales on Halloween-themed costumes, on October 31, 2006 and have reported a steady increase on October 31, 2007. On Halloween night, horror films and horror-themed TV episodes are traditionally aired, and currently, Halloween private parties are more commonly held than actual "trick-or-treating", however both are still observed. Trick or treating is generally only done in the trick-or-treater's neighbourhood.

The children of the largest town in Bonaire all gather together on Halloween day.
The children of the largest town in Bonaire all gather together on Halloween day.


Halloween is largely uncelebrated in the Caribbean. However, like Australia and New Zealand, the event is not unheard of in the Caribbean and is seeing some increase in popularity.

In some parts of the British West Indies, there are celebrations commemorating Guy Fawkes Night that occur around the time of Halloween. The celebrations include using firecrackers, blowing bamboo joints and similar activities. And in other island they celebrate All Saints'. On this evening they go to the cemetery to sing, and light candles on the tomb of their loved ones.

On the island of Bonaire, the children of a town typically gather to trick-or-treat for sweets among the town shops (instead of people's homes, as in other countries).

The Netherlands

Halloween has become increasingly popular in The Netherlands since the early 1990s. From early October, stores are full of merchandising related to the popular Halloween themes. Students and little children dress up on Halloween for parties and small parades. Trick-or-treating is highly uncommon, also because this directly interferes with the Dutch tradition of celebrating St. Martin's Day. On the 11 November, Dutch children ring doorbells hoping to receive a small treat in return for singing a short song dedicated to St. Martin.


Halloween had never been celebrated in Malta until recently, with its popularity increasing thanks to the many costume parties, usually for teenagers and young adults, being organized on Halloween night.

People's Republic of China

There is no Halloween in Chinese culture, but there is a similar Chinese holiday called Ghost Festival. The Ghost Festival is a traditional Chinese festival and holiday, which is celebrated by Chinese people in many countries. In the Chinese calendar (a lunisolar calendar), the Ghost Festival is on the 14th night of the seventh lunar month, which is called Ghost Day. In Chinese tradition, the ghosts and spirits, including those of the deceased ancestors, come out from the lower world.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, does celebrate Halloween every year unlike the Mainland.


In Sweden Halloween is celebrated the same day the Church of Sweden celebrates All Saints day, the first saturday in November. This is due to a misunderstanding when the retail business organizations introduced Halloween in the mid-1990s. Christians and christian organizations do not like this connection and very few Swedes are aware that Halloween in the English-speaking countries is a non-Christian holiday celebrated October 31.

Other regions

In other regions such as Japan and Germany, Halloween has become popular in the context of American pop culture. Some Christians do not appreciate the resultant de-emphasis of the more spiritual aspects of All Hallows Eve and Reformation Day, respectively, or of regional festivals occurring around the same time (such as St Martin's Day). Business has a natural tendency to capitalize on the holiday season's more commercial aspects, such as the sale of decorations and costumes.

Religious perspectives

In North America, Christian attitudes towards Halloween are quite diverse. The fact that All Saints Day and Halloween occur on two consecutive days has left some Christians uncertain of how they should treat this holiday. In the Anglican Church, some dioceses have chosen to emphasize the Christian traditions of All Saints Day, while some Protestants celebrate the holiday as Reformation Day, a day of remembrance and prayers for unity. Celtic Christians may have Samhain services that focus on the cultural aspects of the holiday, in the belief that many ancient Celtic customs are "compatible with the new Christian religion. Christianity embraced the Celtic notions of family, community, the bond among all people, and respect for the dead. Throughout the centuries, pagan and Christian beliefs intertwine in a gallimaufry (hodgepodge) of celebrations from October 31 through November 5, all of which appear both to challenge the ascendancy of the dark and to revel in its mystery."

Many Christians ascribe no negative significance to Halloween, treating it as a purely secular holiday devoted to celebrating “imaginary spooks” and handing out candy. Halloween celebrations are common among Roman Catholic parochial schools throughout North America and in Ireland. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church sees Halloween as having a Christian connection. Father Gabriele Amorth, a Vatican-appointed exorcist in Rome, has said, "[I]f English and American children like to dress up as witches and devils on one night of the year that is not a problem. If it is just a game, there is no harm in that." Most Christians hold the view that the tradition is far from being "satanic" in origin or practice and that it holds no threat to the spiritual lives of children: being taught about death and mortality, and the ways of the Celtic ancestors actually being a valuable life lesson and a part of many of their parishioners' heritage. Other Christians, primarily of the Evangelical and Fundamentalist variety, are concerned about Halloween, and reject the holiday because they believe it trivializes (and celebrates) “the occult” and what they perceive as evil. A response among some fundamentalists in recent years has been the use of Hell houses or themed pamphlets (such as those of Jack T. Chick) which attempt to make use of Halloween as an opportunity for evangelism. Some consider Halloween to be completely incompatible with the Christian faith due to its origin as a Pagan " festival of the dead." In more recent years, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston has organised a "Saint Fest" on the holiday.

Some Wiccans feel that the tradition is offensive to "real witches" for promoting stereotypical caricatures of "wicked witches". However, other Neopagans, perhaps most of them, see it as a harmless holiday in which some of the old traditions are celebrated by the mainstream culture, albeit in a different manner.


Ray Bradbury's The Halloween Tree features the holiday prominently. Halloween is frequently mentioned as an important date in the Harry Potter book series by J.K. Rowling, whose central themes are wizardry and magic. In Alan Moore's graphic novel Watchmen, several pivotal events occur on Halloween night, including the death of the original ' Nite-Owl'. Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and the character of the Headless Horseman are often linked to the holiday in the public mindset due to later adaptations (though Halloween is not actually mentioned in the original work).

Films in which Halloween plays a significant role include adaptations of the above works, plus the Halloween film series, Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas, Monster House, Donnie Darko, Hellboy, and Hocus Pocus.

Numerous Halloween television specials have been broadcast, notably It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, The Halloween That Almost Wasn't, Witch's Night Out, The Worst Witch, Casper's Halloween Special, Blackbeard's Ghost, Garfield's Halloween Adventure, and the annual Simpsons " Treehouse of Horror" episodes.


  • Diane C. Arkins, Halloween: Romantic Art and Customs of Yesteryear, Pelican Publishing Company (2000). 96 pages. ISBN 1-56554-712-8
  • Diane C. Arkins, Halloween Merrymaking: An Illustrated Celebration Of Fun, Food, And Frolics From Halloweens Past, Pelican Publishing Company (2004). 112 pages. ISBN 1-58980-113-X
  • Lesley Bannatyne, Halloween: An American Holiday, An American History, Facts on File (1990, Pelican Publishing Company, 1998). 180 pages. ISBN 1-56554-346-7
  • Lesley Bannatyne, A Halloween Reader. Stories, Poems and Plays from Halloweens Past, Pelican Publishing Company (2004). 272 pages. ISBN 1-58980-176-8
  • Phyllis Galembo, Dressed for Thrills: 100 Years of Halloween Costumes and Masquerade, Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (2002). 128 pages. ISBN 0-8109-3291-1
  • Lint Hatcher, The Magic Eightball Test: A Christian Defense of Halloween and All Things Spooky, Lulu.com (2006). ISBN 978-1847287564
  • Ronald Hutton, Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain, Oxford Paperbacks (2001). 560 pages. ISBN 0-19-285448-8
  • Jean Markale, The Pagan Mysteries of Halloween: Celebrating the Dark Half of the Year (translation of Halloween, histoire et traditions), Inner Traditions (2001). 160 pages. ISBN 0-89281-900-6
  • Lisa Morton, The Halloween Encyclopedia, McFarland & Company (2003). 240 pages. ISBN 0-7864-1524-X
  • Nicholas Rogers, Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, Oxford University Press (2002). 198 pages. ISBN 0-19-514691-3
  • Jack Santino (ed.), Halloween and Other Festivals of Death and Life, University of Tennessee Press (1994). 280 pages. ISBN 0-87049-813-4
  • David J. Skal, Death Makes A Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween, Bloomsbury USA (2003). 224 pages. ISBN 1-58234-305-5
  • Ben Truwe, The Halloween Catalog Collection. Portland, Oregon: Talky Tina Press (2003). ISBN 0-9703448-5-6.

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