Halloween (also spelled Hallowe’en) is a holiday celebrated on October 31. It has roots in the Celtic festival of Samhain and the Christian holy day of All Saints’ Day. It is largely a secular celebration, but some Christians and pagans have expressed strong feelings about its religious overtones. Irish immigrants carried versions of the tradition to North America during Ireland’s Great Famine of 1846. The day is often associated with the colors orange and black, and is strongly associated with symbols such as the jack-o’-lantern. Halloween activities include trick-or-treating, wearing costumes, ghost tours, bonfires, costume parties, visiting haunted attractions, carving jack-o’-lanterns, pranking people, reading scary stories, and watching horror movies.
Halloween has origins in the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain [pronounced: sow- wen] (Irish pronunciation: [ˈsˠaunʲ]; from the Old Irish samhain, possibly derived from Gaulish samonios). 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 Celtic pagans to take stock of supplies and slaughter livestock for winter stores. The ancient Celts believed that on October 31st, now known as Halloween, the boundary between the living 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, into which the bones of slaughtered livestock were thrown. Costumes and masks being worn at Halloween goes back to the Celtic traditions of attempting to copy the evil spirits or placate them, in Scotland for instance where the dead were impersonated by young men with masked, veiled or blackened faces, dressed in white.
The term Halloween, originally spelled Hallowe’en, is shortened from All Hallows’ Even (“All Hallows’ Eve”) [eve is an abbreviation of even, an older word for evening. Halloween gets -een as a result of syncopation of even to e’en], from the Old English term eallra hālgena ǣfen meaning “All Hallow’ Evening”, 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 9th 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.