Halloween falls on the 31st October of every year and is the day before All Hallows' Day, also known as All Saints' Day in the Christian calendar. Traditionally, the Christian Church held a vigil on All Hallows' Eve when worshippers would prepare themselves with prayers and fasting prior to the feast day itself.

The name Halloween, now synonymous with ghouls and witches, actually derives from the Old English word 'hallowed' meaning holy or sanctified. This is now usually contracted to the more familiar word Hallowe'en, but how did this day become associated with all things ’unchristian’?

Well, the date of Halloween, 31st October, marked the end of the Celtic year and was believed to be the day when the spirits of those who died in the previous year would come back and possess a body of the living to allow themselves to pass into the afterlife.

However, the people who were still living were not keen on being possessed and would dress up in scary costumes to try and frighten away spirits. And this is the how the modern Halloween holiday was born.

Modern Halloween

So nowadays, Halloween is mostly a time when people dress in scary costumes, go ‘trick or treating’, display carved pumpkins and play traditional Halloween games, such as apple bobbing.

Trick or treating involves dressing up in costumes and knocking on neighbours doors for treats. If treats are not given then tricks are played on the neighbour. It is thought to have come from a traditional European custom called 'souling'. It is believed that Christians used to go from door to door in villages to ask for soul cakes and for every cake you gave them they would say a prayer for one of your dead relatives.

Apple bobbing is a game traditionally played on Halloween. A number of apples are placed in a large bowl of water. Players have to try to catch one of the apples using only their teeth. The hands must remain behind the back at all times. This game is believed to date back to Roman times when Romans used to celebrate Pomona, their goddess of fruit, in October. The symbol for Pomona was an apple.

Carving a face into a pumpkin and placing a candle inside is to represent the Irish folklore about a man called Jack. It is believed that Jack was a notorious trickster and once even managed to trap the Devil up a tree. When Jack died, he was refused from heaven because of his bad behaviour and in revenge for being trapped up a tree, the Devil refused Jack entry into hell. Instead, he gave him a single ember to guide him through the darkness. The folklore tells us that the ember was said to be placed inside a turnip to make it last longer. Over time the turnip has changed to a pumpkin.

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