A typical Halloween Scene
It was a cool autumn evening. Mrs. Brown was sitting in her living room, reading. Suddenly, there was a loud knock on her door, then two or three more knocks. Mrs. Brown put the safety chain on her door. Then she opened it a little and looked out. there stood three children wearing masks and costumes. When they saw her, they all shouted, "Trick or treat! Money or eats!"
Mrs. Brown dropped a candy bar into each child's bag. Then she said to one boy, who was wearing a big hat, high boots, and a holster with a toy gun in it, "What are you?"
"A cowboy," he answered.
"I'm a ghost," shouted another child hidden under a white sheet.
"And I'm a skeleton," said the third child. "My bones shine in the dark." The "skeleton" was wearing a black suit with white bones painted on it.
"Thanks for the candy," shouted the children as they ran off to ring another doorbell.
"You're welcome," said Mrs. Brown. "Have fun. And don't play any pranks."
The origins of Halloween customs
Every year on October 31, Halloween scenes like this occur
throughout the United States. American children love to dress up in costumes
and go trick or treating. If an adult refuses to supply a treat-candy,
cookies, fruit, or money-the children may play a trick. Typical Halloween pranks
are soaping windows, writing on doors with crayons, overturning garbage cans,
sticking pins into doorbells
to keep them ringing, and spraying shaving cream on cars and friends.
Masquerading, begging, and any other Halloween customs are now mainly for the amusement of children. But hundreds of years ago, these customs were performed quite seriously by adults as part of their religion.
The name Halloween is a short way of saying All Hallow's Eve, which means the night before the Roman Catholic holiday of All saints' Day. Although Halloween got its name from a Christian festival, its customs are of pagan origin. They come from two different sources: an ancient Celtic festival in honor of Samhain, lord of death, and a Roman festival in honor of Pomona, goddess of gardens and orchards. The Halloween colors, black and orange, suggest both ideas: death and harvest.
The spooky part of Halloween comes from the Celts, who occupied the British Isles and northern France during ancient and medieval times. The Celts worshiped gods of nature. They feared the coming of winter, associating it with death and evil spirits. Every year on October 31, the last day of the year on the old pagan calendar, the Druids(Celtic priests and teachers)built huge bonfires to scare away the bad spirits of evil and death. They threw animals and crops from the harvest into the fire as gifts for the evil spirits. The Celtic people also dressed in ugly, scary costumes in order to resemble the evil spirits they feared. The Celts believed that, if they disguised themselves this way, the spirits wouldn't harm them. Supposedly, on this evening, ghosts rose from their graves and witches rode through the air on broomsticks or black cats. Also, the spirits of dead relatives and friends were expected to return to earth for a visit. The Druids built bonfires on hilltops to guide these spirits back home.
From the Druid religion, then, come the custom of masquerading and the symbols of Halloween: ghosts, skeletons, devils, witches,
black cats, and owls. The jack-o'-lantern is also of Celtic origin. It was an Irish custom to hollow out turnips and placed lighted candles inside them to scare evil spirits away from the house. In the United States, the native pumpkin is used to make a jack-o'-lantern. First, the pulp and seeds are removed. Then holes are cut in the hollow pumpkin to make the eyes, nose, and mouth. A candle is put inside , and the Jack-o'-lantern is placed by the window.
The Irish also introduced the trick-or treat custom hundreds of years ago. Groups of farmers would travel from house to house asking for food for the village's Halloween party. They would promise good luck to generous contributors and threaten those who were stingy.
The Druid holiday of Samhain contained many elements of a harvest festival. This part of the celebration became even more significant after 55 B.C. when the Romans invaded England and brought with them their harvest festival of Pomona. Thereafter, nuts and fruits-especially apples-became part of the Samhain ceremonies. Today, at Halloween time, Americans honor the harvest by displaying cornstalks and pumpkins, eating nuts, autumn fruits, and pumpkin pies, and playing games with apples. One of the most popular Halloween games is bobbing for apples. In this game, apples float in a large tub of water. One at a time, children bend over the tub and try to catch an apple in their mouths without using their hands.
The Druid religion lasted longest in Ireland and Scotland, and Halloween was most important in these two countries. In the 19th century, Irish immigrants brought their Halloween customs to the United States. Today Halloween is much more important in the United States than it is in great Britain.
Celebrating Halloween Today
Although Halloween is celebrated most enthusiastically by children, adults sometimes get into the act, too. College students and other adults may attend masquerade parties or participate in Halloween parades. Places of business are often decorated with Jack-o'-lanterns, scarecrows, and witches. And sometimes a serious, hard-working adult employee will arrive at the office dressed as a tube of toothpaste or garbage can. No one is too old to enjoy the fun of surprising friends by doing a little creative costuming.
Parts of the fun of Halloween is to get scared "out of wits" as Americans say. This can easily be done by visiting a haunted house. Supposedly, haunted houses are inhabited by the spirits of dead people. These spirits keep trying to scare away living residents or visitors so that the spirits can enjoy their afterlife(which really means a life after death) in peace. Why do spirits hate the living? For one thing, the living always want to clean up and brighten their surroundings, while ghosts and skeletons prefer to decorate their homes with dust, cobwebs, spiders, and darkness. These days, it's hard to find a genuine haunted house. But every year shortly before Halloween, many charitable organizations create them. They hire actors to dress up in scary costumes and hide inside. Customers pay a few dollars each to walk through these dirty, creaky places and have "ghosts" surprise them with a loud "Boo!," and "skeletons' clang chains in their ears. Children usually love these haunted houses, but sometimes their parents are scared to death!
For those that have no haunted house nearby, another way to share a good scare is to go with friends to see a horror movie or rent one and watch it on videotapes in a dark room, of course.
Most American children have a wonderful, exciting day on Halloween. If Halloween falls on school day, they bring their costumes to school and spend their last few hours of the school day with spooks instead of with books. After school and perhaps on into the evening, they go trick-or-treating. Often, there's a party at a friend's home or at the local community center. At most Halloween parties, prizes are given for the best costumes. Bobbing for apples, telling fortunes, playing scary games, and snacking on caramel-covered apples, candy, apple cider, and pumpkin pie are all part of the fun. Some communities build a bonfire, reminiscent of the Celtic celebrations in the Middle Ages. The children may sit around the bonfire telling scary stories while roasting hot dogs or toasting marsh mallows. Halloween, which began hundreds of years ago as an evening of terror, is now an occasion of great fun. It is certainly one of the favorite holidays of American children.
However, a note of warning is needed. Halloween is a time when children become overexcited and careless, and it is a time when care is especially needed. Parents should set up rules for children to follow before they go out trick-or-treating. Here are a few good ones:
1. Children should go trick-or-treating in groups, never alone.
2. Children should never go inside the house or apartment of a stranger but should wait outside the door for their treat.
3. Younger children should go with older children or with an adult.
4. Children should be reminded not to destroy or damage someone's property.
5. Even older children should stop trick-or-treating by 8 P.M.
6. Children should not eat any treat that is not wrapped and sealed.
Parent should inspect candy to be sure that it hasn't been tampered with. There have been occasional incidents of mentally disturbed people putting harmful ingredients into Halloween candy.
On Halloween night, adults should be careful, too. Note that Mrs. Brown did not completely unlock her door until she was sure that
her unexpected visitors were children. Robbers sometimes take advantage of the casual, open-door Halloween spirit to gain access to strangers' homes.