Hallowe'en (a shortening of All Hallows’ Evening), also known as Halloween or All Hallows' Eve, is a yearly holiday observed around the world on October 31, the night before All Saints' Day. Much like Day of the Dead celebrations, the Christian feast of All Hallows' Eve, according to some scholars, incorporates traditions from pagan harvest festivals and festivals honouring the dead,particularly the Celtic Samhain; other scholars maintain that the feast originated entirely independently of Samhain. Typical festive Halloween activities include trick-or-treating (also known as "guising"), attending costume parties, carving jack-o'-lanterns, lighting bonfires, apple bobbing, visiting haunted attractions, playing pranks, telling scary stories, watching horror films, as well asthe religious observances of praying, fasting and attending vigils or church services.
The word Halloween is first attested in the 16th century and represents a Scottish variant of the fuller All-Hallows'-Even ("evening"), that is, the night before All Hallows' Day. Although the phrase All Hallows' is found in Old English (ealra hālgena mæssedæg, mass-day of all saints),All-Hallows-Even is itself not attested until 1556.
According to some scholars, the observance of Halloween or All Hallows' Eve combines pre-Christian and Christian traditions; other scholars maintain "that Hallowe'en, as the eve of All Saints' Day, originated entirely independently of Samhain and some question the existence of a specific pan-Celtic religious festival whichtook place on 31st October/1st November." Historian Nicholas Rogers, exploring the origins of Halloween, notes that while "some folklorists have detected its origins in the Roman feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, or in the festival of the dead called Parentalia, it is more typically linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-an or sow-in)", derived from the Old IrishSamuin meaning "summer's end". Samhain was the first and by far the most important of the four quarter days in the medieval Irish and Scottish calendar and, falling on the last day of autumn, it was a time for stock-taking and preparation for the cold winter months ahead. There was also a sense that this was the time of year when the physical and supernatural worlds were closest and magicalthings could happen. To ward off these spirits, the Gaels built huge, symbolically regenerative bonfires and invoked the help of the gods through animal and perhaps even human sacrifice.
Halloween is also thought to have been heavily influenced by the Christian holy days of All Saints' Day (also known as Hallowmas, All Hallows, and Hallowtide) and All Souls' Day. Falling onNovember 1 and 2 respectively, collectively they were a time for honoring the saints and praying for the recently departed who had yet to reach heaven. By the end of the 12th century they had become days of holy obligation across Europe and involved such traditions as ringing bells for the souls in purgatory and "souling", the custom of baking bread or soul cakes for "all crysten [ christened ]souls". It was traditionally believed that the souls of the departed wandered the earth until All Saints' Day, and All Hallows' Eve provided one last chance for the dead to gain vengeance on their enemies before moving onto the next world. To avoid being recognised by a soul, Christians would wear masques and costumes to disguise themselves, following the lighted candles set by others to guide theirtravel for worship the next day. Today, this practice has been perpetuated through trick-or-treating.
In Britain the rituals of Hallowtide and Halloween came under attack during the Reformation as Protestants denounced purgatory as a "popish" doctrine incompatible with the notion of predestination. In addition the increasing popularity of Guy Fawkes Night (5th November) from 1605 on saw Halloween...