Halloween also known as All Hallows’ Eve, is a yearly celebration observed in a number of countries on October 31, the eve of the feast of All Hallows’ Day. It initiates the triduum of Hallowmas, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints, martyrs, and all the faithful departed believers. According to many scholars, All Hallows’ Eve is a Christianized feast initially influenced by Celtic harvest festivals, and festivals of the dead with possible pagan roots. Yet there are many scholars that maintain that Halloween has solely Christian roots.
Typical festive Halloween activities include trick or treating (“trunk or treating”), attending costume parties, decorating, carving pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns, lighting bonfires, apple bobbing visiting haunted attractions, telling scary stories, and watching horror films. 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. Today’s Halloween customs are thought to have been influenced by folk customs and beliefs from the Celtic-speaking countries, some of which have pagan roots, and others which may be rooted in Celtic Christianity. Halloween is typically linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain which is derived from the “Old Irish” for “summer’s end” and was held on or about October 31 – November 1. Samhain and Calan Gaeaf are mentioned in some of the earliest Irish and Welsh literature. The names have been used by historians to refer to Celtic Halloween customs and are still the Gaelic and Welsh names for Halloween. Samhain/Calan Gaeaf marked the end of the harvest season and beginning of the winter season. Today’s Halloween customs are also thought to have been influenced by Christian dogma and practices derived from it. Halloween falls on the evening before the Christian holy days of All Saints’ Day on November 1 and All Souls’ Day on November 2, thus giving the holiday on October 31 the full name of All Hallows’ Eve. These three days are collectively referred to as Hallowmas and are a time for honoring the saints and praying for the recently departed souls who have yet to reach Heaven. On Halloween, in Italy, families left a large meal out for ghosts of their passed relatives, before they departed for church services. In Spain, women, on this night, made special pastries known as “bones of the holy” and put them on the graves of the churchyard, a practice that continues to this day. North American almanacs of the late 18th and early 19th century give no indication that Halloween was celebrated there. The Puritans maintained strong opposition to Halloween, and it was not until the mass Irish and Scottish immigration during the 19th century that it was brought to North America in earnest. Confined to the immigrant communities during the mid-19th century, it was gradually assimilated into mainstream society and by the first decade of the 20th century it was being celebrated coast to coast by people of all social, racial and religious backgrounds. Development of artifacts and symbols associated with Halloween formed over time. Jack-o-lanterns are traditionally carried by those in disguise on All Hallows’ Eve in order to frighten evil spirits. A popular folktale associated with the jack-o’-lantern, is said to represent a “soul who has been denied entry into both heaven and hell.”
In Ireland and Scotland, the turnip has traditionally been carved during Halloween; immigrants to North America used the native pumpkin, which is both much softer and much larger – making it easier to carve than a turnip. Subsequently, mass marketing of various size pumpkins in autumn, in both the corporate and local markets, has made pumpkins universally available for this purpose. The American tradition of carving pumpkins is recorded in 1837 and was originally associated with harvest time in general, not becoming specifically associated with Halloween until the mid-to-late 19th century. The modern imagery of Halloween comes from many sources, including Christian eschatology, national customs, works of Gothic and horror literature and classic horror films. Imagery of the skull in the Christian tradition serves as “a reminder of death and the transitory quality of human life” and is consequently found in momento mori and vanitas compositions; skulls have therefore been commonplace in Halloween, which touches on this theme. Elements of the autumn season, such as pumpkins, corn husks and scarecrows, are also prevalent. Homes are often decorated with these types of symbols around Halloween. Halloween imagery includes themes of death, evil, and mythical monsters. Black, orange, and sometimes purple are Halloween’s traditional colors.
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 (such as toilet papering or egging the home). In Scotland and Ireland, 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 Ontario, Canada reported children going “guising” around the neighborhood. An American historian and author wrote the first book length history of Halloween in the US; “The Book of Halloween (1919), and references souling in the chapter “Hallowe’en in America”. In this book, the author 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.
Halloween 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. A popular variant of trick-or-treating, known as trunk-or-treating (or Halloween tail gaiting), 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 of each automobile is decorated with a theme (an example would be children’s literature, movies and others). 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”.
“Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF” is a fundraising program to support UNICEF, a United Nations Program that provides humanitarian aid to children in developing countries. The program involves the distribution of small boxes by schools 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 $118 million for UNICEF since its inception. In Canada, in 2006, UNICEF decided to discontinue their Halloween collection boxes, citing safety and administrative concerns; after consultation with schools, they instead redesigned the program. I remember going trick or treating with an orange box to collect money for UNICEF when I was younger.
There are several games traditionally associated with Halloween parties. One common game is dunking or apple bobbing 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. A common custom includes picking and purchasing pumpkins from patches. 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 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. Even in some areas today, there are places that will still x-ray the treats.
The telling of ghost stories and viewing of horror films are common fixtures of Halloween parties. Haunted attractions are entertainment venues designed to thrill and scare patrons. Most attractions are seasonal Halloween businesses. Origins of these paid scare venues are difficult to pinpoint, but it is generally accepted that they were first commonly used for fundraising. They include haunted houses, corn mazes and hayrides, and the level of sophistication of the effects has risen as the industry has grown. Haunted attractions in the United States bring in an estimate $300–500 million each year, and draw some 400,000 customers, although press sources writing in 2005 speculated that the industry had reached its peak at that time. This maturing and growth within the industry has led to technically more advanced special effects and costuming, comparable with that of Hollywood films. During Hallowmas, many Christian believers visit graveyards in order to place flowers and candles on the graves of their loved ones. 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 as well as most of continental Europe, Japan, and other parts of East Asia.
Halloween costumes are traditionally modeled after supernatural figures such as 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. Many times when my brother and I were younger, our mother loved to sew made our costumes, sometimes we were matching scarecrows, ghosts, clowns, etc. but we also had a say in costumes. I remember going as Mary Poppins, Charlie Brown, a ballet dancer, even Casper the Friendly Ghost.
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AUTUMN (A/K/A FALL)
Autumn or fall is one of the four temperate seasons. Autumn marks the transition from summer into winter, in September (Northern Hemisphere) or March (Southern Hemisphere) when the arrival of night becomes noticeably earlier.
The equinoxes might be expected to be in the middle of their respective seasons, but temperature lag (caused by the thermal latency of the ground and sea) means that seasons appear later than dates calculated from a purely astronomical perspective. The actual lag varies with region. Some cultures regard the autumnal equinox as “mid-autumn”; others with a longer lag treat it as the start of autumn. Meteorologists (most of the temperate countries in the southern hemisphere) use a definition based on months, with autumn being September, October and November in the northern hemisphere, and March, April and May in the southern hemisphere.
In North America, autumn is usually considered to start with the September equinox. In traditional East Asian solar term, autumn starts on or around August 8th and ends on about November 7th. In Ireland, the autumn months according to the national meteorological service are September, October and November. However, according to the Irish Calendar which is based on ancient Gaelic traditions, autumn lasts throughout the months of August, September, and October, or possibly a few days later, depending on tradition. In Australia, autumn officially begins on March 1st and ends May 31st. According to United States tradition, autumn runs from the day after Labor Day (the Tuesday following the first Monday of September) through Thanksgiving (the fourth Thursday in November), after which the holiday season that demarcates the unofficial beginning of winter begins.
The alternative word fall for the season traces its origins to old Germanic languages. The exact derivation is unclear, with the Old English fiæll or feallan as well as and the Old Norse fall all being possible candidates. However, these words all have the meaning “to fall from a height” and are clearly derived either from a common root or from each other. The term came to denote the season in 16th century England, a contraction of Middle English expressions like “fall of the leaf” and “fall of the year”.
Association with the transition from warm to cold weather, and its related status as the season of the primary harvest, has dominated its themes and popular images. In Western cultures, personifications of autumn are usually pretty, well-fed females adorned with fruits, vegetables and grains that ripen at this time. Many cultures feature autumnal harvest festivals, often the most important on their calendars. Still extant echoes of these celebrations are found in the mid-autumn Thanksgiving holiday of the United States and Canada, and the Jewish Sukkot holiday with its roots as a full-moon harvest festival of “tabernacles” (living in outdoor huts around the time of harvest). There are also the many North American Indian festivals tied to harvest of autumnally ripe foods gathered in the wild, the Chinese Mid-Autumn or Moon festival, and many others. The predominant mood of these autumnal celebrations is gladness for the fruits of the earth mixed with a certain melancholy linked to the imminent arrival of harsh weather. While most foods are harvested during the autumn, foods particularly associated with the season include pumpkins (integral parts and apples, which are used to make the seasonal beverage apple cider. I also go apple picking in the fall at several local farms and get apples to make homemade apple sauce and pies.
Autumn in poetry has often been associated with melancholy. The possibilities of summer are gone, and the chill of winter is on the horizon. Skies turn grey, and many people turn inward, both physically and mentally.
In the Anglo sphere, most notably in Anglo-America, autumn is also associated with the Halloween season (which in turn was influenced by Samhain, a Celtic autumn festival), and with it a widespread marketing campaign that promotes it, in the U.S.A. The television, film, book, costume, home decoration, and confectionery industries use this time of year to promote products closely associated with such a holiday, with promotions going from early September to October 31st, since their themes rapidly lose strength once the holiday ends, and advertising starts concentrating on the Christmas season.
Autumn has a strong association with American football, as the regular season begins during September and ends with playoff competition in December or January, in the winter season. Canadian football, on the other hand, begins in the summer, but extends its season through the autumn season and into November. A normal activity for high schools in the US is attending Friday night football games in Autumn, while Sunday afternoons are reserved for the professional game, particularly the National Football League, and Saturdays are traditionally used for college football. The sport is generally geared around fall weather and playing in cold elements. Autumn also has strong ties to post-season baseball, with the autumnal equinox occurring with about a week left in the regular season, depending on scheduling. Autumn baseball oftentimes signifies excitement in the air for fans who root for teams on the cusp of making the post-season, as well as those that made it. The World Series, baseball’s championship series which determines the champion of Major League Baseball for that season is held in mid-to-late October (sometimes spilling over into November to accommodate longer series) and is nicknamed the “Fall Classic”.
Autumn, particularly in most parts of the United States, also has a strong association with the start of a new school year, particularly for children in primary and secondary education. “Back to school” advertising and preparations usually occurs in the weeks leading to the start of the fall season. Since 1997, Autumn has been one of the top 100 names for girls in the United States. In Indian mythology, autumn is considered to be the preferred season for the goddess of learning Saraswati, who is also known by the name of “goddess of autumn”.
Although colour changes in leaves occur wherever deciduous trees are found, coloured autumn foliage is noted in various regions of the world: most of Anglo-America, Eastern Asia, Europe, parts of Australia and New Zealand’s South Island. Eastern Canada and New England are famous for their autumnal foliage, and this attracts major tourism (worth billions of U.S. dollars) for the regions. I remember when we (my brother and I) were growing up always being fascinated by the changing colours of the leaves. We always raked them up and put them in piles for the town to collect. We also used old clothing and other things we found around to stuff with the leaves we had raked up. Our family also took weekend outings to different areas to see the leaves in all their glorious colors. In school we sometimes brought the best colored leaves in to use in class projects or in art class.