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Halloween is a popular festival in many countries all over the world, and every year it seems to get bigger. It's getting dark earlier and it's starting to get cold. Christmas is still a long way away. We need something to cheer us up and take our minds off the fact that winter is nearly here. Find out some more about the traditional festival of Halloween.
The origins of the name
The festival of Halloween has its roots in Celtic and Roman traditions. Over 2,000 years ago the Celts in Britain, Ireland and parts of France celebrated Samhain to mark the beginning of winter. When the Romans invaded, they merged this with Feralia, their celebration of the passing of the dead. As Christianity spread, the Church tried to replace these pagan feasts with official Church holy days. One of these was 1 November. It was called All Saints Day, or 'All Hallows', and 31 October was known as 'All Hallows' Eve', and then Halloween.
In the past there was a tradition called 'souling'. Poor people went around houses asking for food. In exchange, they promised to say prayers for the dead. People no longer go souling, but the habit has been transformed into a modern Halloween game for children in the US, who dress up as ghosts, witches and monsters and go around people's houses asking for sweets. This game is called 'Trick or Treat'.
Halloween wouldn't be fun without witches. Witches have always been part of popular folklore. Shakespeare's play Macbeth opens with three witches. A witch was someone – usually a woman – who had special powers and had dealings with the devil. The American town Salem, in the state of Massachusetts, is famous for the 'witchcraft trials', which took place there in 1692.
The pumpkin has become a symbol of Halloween. People empty a pumpkin, cut a face into the side and put a candle inside to make a lamp. It's known as a jack-o'-lantern, from an Irish legend about a man called Jack who made a deal with the devil.
Black cats, frogs, mice and spiders are just some of the animals associated with Halloween. Generally, the more unpleasant the animal, the stronger the Halloween connection. Nocturnal animals like bats are particular favourites, and if, as is the case with vampire bats, they like drinking blood, they are high on the Halloween list.