Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain
(pronounced sow-in). The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area
that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, celebrated
their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the
harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that
was often associated with human death.

    Celts believed that on the night
before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and
the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31 they celebrated
Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to
earth. In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought
that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the
Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future.

     To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the
people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic
deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically
consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s
fortunes. By 43 A.D., the Roman Empire had conquered the majority of Celtic
     In the course of the four hundred years that they ruled the
Celtic lands, two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the
traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain. The first was Feralia, a day
in late October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing
of the dead. The second was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of
fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple and the incorporation
of this celebration into Samhain probably explains the tradition of
“bobbing” for apples that is practiced today on Halloween.

On May 13, 609 A.D., Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon in Rome in
honor of all Christian martyrs, and the Catholic feast of All Martyrs
Day was established in the Western church. Pope Gregory III (731–741)
later expanded the festival to include all saints as well as all
martyrs, and moved the observance from May 13 to November 1.

      It is widely believed today that the church was attempting to replace
the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, but church-sanctioned
holiday. All Souls Day was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big
bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels and
devils. The All Saints Day celebration was also called All-hallows or
All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints’ Day)
and the night before it, the traditional night of Samhain in the Celtic
religion, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually,

                              Halloween Comes to America
      In the second half of the nineteenth century, America was flooded with
new immigrants. These new immigrants, especially the millions of Irish
fleeing Ireland’s potato famine of 1846, helped to popularize the
celebration of Halloween nationally. Taking from Irish and English
traditions, Americans began to dress up in costumes and go house to
house asking for food or money, a practice that eventually became
today’s “trick-or-treat” tradition.
       In the late 1800s, there was a move in America to mold Halloween into
a holiday more about community and neighborly get-togethers than about
ghosts, pranks and witchcraft. At the turn of the century, Halloween
parties for both children and adults became the most common way to
celebrate the day. Parties focused on games, foods of the season and
festive costumes.Today, Americans spend an estimated $6 billion annually on Halloween,
making it the country’s second largest commercial holiday.
      The American Halloween tradition of “trick-or-treating” probably
dates back to the early All Souls’ Day parades in England. During the
festivities, poor citizens would beg for food and families would give
them pastries called “soul cakes” in return for their promise to pray
for the family’s dead relatives. The distribution of soul cakes was
encouraged by the church as a way to replace the ancient practice of
leaving food and wine for roaming spirits. The practice, which was
referred to as “going a-souling” was eventually taken up by children who
would visit the houses in their neighborhood and be given ale, food,
and money.

       The tradition of dressing in costume for Halloween has both European
and Celtic roots. Hundreds of years ago, winter was an uncertain and
frightening time. Food supplies often ran low and, for the many people
afraid of the dark, the short days of winter were full of constant
worry. On Halloween, when it was believed that ghosts came back to the
earthly world, people thought that they would encounter ghosts if they
left their homes.

       To avoid being recognized by these ghosts, people
would wear masks when they left their homes after dark so that the
ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits. On Halloween, to keep
ghosts away from their houses, people would place bowls of food outside
their homes to appease the ghosts and prevent them from attempting to
       Every October, carved pumpkins peer out from porches and doorsteps in
the United States and other parts of the world.Gourd-like orange fruits
inscribed with ghoulish faces and illuminated by candles are a sure sign
of the Halloween season. The practice of decorating
“jack-o’-lanterns”—the name comes from an Irish folktale about a man
named Stingy Jack—originated in Ireland, where large turnips and
potatoes served as an early canvas. Irish immigrants brought the
tradition to America, home of the pumpkin, and it became an integral
part of Halloween festivities.

      People have been making jack-o’-lanterns at Halloween
for centuries. The practice originated from an Irish myth about a man
nicknamed “Stingy Jack.” According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the
Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn’t
want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself
into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did
so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a
silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his
original form.

      Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that
he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he
would not claim his soul. The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil
into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in
the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree’s bark so that
the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to
bother him for ten more years.

      Soon after, Jack died. As the legend goes, God would not allow such
an unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had
played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not
allow Jack into hell. He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a
burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved-out
turnip and has been roaming the Earth with ever since. The Irish began
to refer to this ghostly figure as “Jack of the Lantern,” and then,
simply “Jack O’Lantern.”

      In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of
Jack’s lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and
placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and
other wandering evil spirits. In England, large beets are used.
Immigrants from these countries brought the jack o’lantern tradition
with them when they came to the United States. They soon found that
pumpkins, a fruit native to America, make perfect jack-o’-lanterns.
source :  http://www.history.com/topics/halloween/history-of-halloween

A dose of English:
boundary – something that indicates bounds or limits; a limiting or bounding line
bonfire -a large fire built in the open air, for warmth, entertainment, or celebration, to burn leaves, garbage, etc., or as a signal
famine – extreme and general scarcity of food, as in a country or a large geographical area
pranks – jokes
ale – a malt beverage, darker, heavier, and more bitter than beer, containing about 6 percent alcohol by volume
gourd – the hard-shelled fruit of any of various plants, especially those of Lagenaria siceraria (white-flowered gourd or bottle gourd) whose dried shell is used for bowls and other utensils, and Cucurbita pepo (yellow-flowered gourd) used ornamentally
ghoulish – strangely diabolical or cruel; monstrous 
turnip – the thick, fleshy, edible root of either of two plants of the mustard family, the white-fleshed Brassica rapa rapifera or the yellow-fleshed rutabaga, nap
stingy – reluctant to give or spend; not generous
bark – the external covering of the woody stems, branches, and roots of plants, as distinct and separable from the wood itself

unsavory – not savory; tasteless or insipid/unpleasant in taste or smell; distasteful/unappealing or disagreeable , as a pursuit/socially or morally objectionable or offensive  


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