Halloween, or All Hallows’ Eve, is celebrated on October 31, the evening before All Saints’ Day. A day before All Saints’ Day, this celebration marks the beginning of Allhallowtide, which lasts three days and culminates on All Souls’ Day. North America and most of Europe observe Halloween without religious connotations. The night of October 31 is designated as Halloween.

Halloween originated among the Celts of ancient Britain and Ireland as a festival of Samhain. New years were believed to begin on November 1, according to contemporary calendars. The date marked the end of pasture season and the beginning of winter when herds were returned to pasture and land tenures were renewed. It was believed that those who had died during the year went to the otherworld, while their souls returned to their homes during the Samhain festival. It was customary to light bonfires on hilltops in order to prepare for the winter and ward off evil spirits, and people wore masks and disguises so that ghosts would not recognize them. These were the ways in which witches, hobgoblins, fairies, and demons came to be associated with Halloween. It was also thought that the period was favorable for divination in matters of marriage, health, and death. Feralia, which commemorates the passing of the dead, and Pomona, the harvest goddess, were added by the Romans following their conquest of the Celts in the 1st century CE.

A pagan holiday was replaced by a Christian celebration in the 7th century CE when Pope Boniface IV established All Saints’ Day. This became a holy or hallowed eve before All Saints’ Day, which is why Halloween is celebrated on the evening before All Saints’ Day. Secular and sacred days were merged by the end of the Middle Ages. The Protestant Reformation ended Halloween as a religious holiday in Britain, but it continues as a secular holiday. Halloween was forbidden to early American colonists along with other festivities, although harvest festivals that incorporated Halloween elements developed in the 1800s. Halloween became a major U.S. holiday in the 20th century, especially among children, because of large numbers of immigrants, including the Irish, moving to the country.

There are many activities associated with Halloween, as it is a secular holiday. The first is the practice of pulling harmless pranks on people. It is thought that the practice of allowing the poor to beg for food, called “soul cakes,” led celebrities to wear masks and costumes for parties and trick-or-treating. When trick-or-treaters do not receive a treat, usually candy, from house to house, they threaten to pull a trick. The Roman holiday of Pomona may have inspired games like bobbing for apples at Halloween parties. Ghosts, witches, and vampires have also been incorporated into the holiday along with skeletons and black cats. A jack-o’-lantern is another symbol, a hollowed-out pumpkin, originally a turnip, carved with a demonic face and lit with a candle.


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