All Saints, the day on which we honour the memory of our deceased loved ones, is approaching. In most English-speaking countries, All Saints’ eve is also celebrated under the name of Halloween, short for all hallows’ eve.
The mixture of different cultures and traditions in North America resulted in a particular way to celebrate the All Saints’ eve. The format of Halloween as we know it today, with its spooky fancy dresses, glowing pumpkins (the popular Jack O’Lantern) and the scary stories finds its origins in the United States. In the mid-nineteenth century the Irish immigrants popularised this festival all around the country, adding some of its most popular features such as the well-known “trick-or-treat” or foretelling practices using strings, apple chunks or mirrors.
The celebration of Halloween traces back its origins to the Celtic festival of Samhain, which marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. This season was regarded by the Celts as a period of transition not only in climatic terms, but also in a spiritual way, a time during which the world of the living and the realm of the souls came closer. During the Middle Ages the Catholic Church, in an attempt to counterbalance the influence of pagan festivities, marked the 1st of November as the All Saints’ day, matching thus with Samhain.
Traditionally, All Saints has been regarded as a day of reflection and remembrance. However, by the turn of the 20th century North Americans opted for a more familiar and community-based celebration and, starting in the 1920s and 1930s, began to take the public spaces as well once local councils decided to sponsor festivals and parades. Today, Halloween is known and celebrated all around the world largely thanks to globalisation trends and the cinema industry. Even though the United States and Canada hold Halloween as one of their most significant traditions, other English-speaking nations like Ireland or the United Kingdom, or even some Spanish-speaking countries, have been gradually incorporating it over the last decades.
Below you can find some useful vocabulary for this special day:
- Trick-or-treat: children in costumes visit different houses, asking for treats with the phrase “Trick or treat”. The “treat” is usually some form of sweet or candy whereas the “trick” refers to a threat, generally casual, to perform mischief on the homeowners or their property if no sweets are given.
- Costumes: costumes, or fancy dresses are sets of clothes in a style typical of a particular country or historical period. The most popular costumes in Halloween are scarecrow, werewolf, mummy, vampire, ghost, witch, skeleton or Frankenstein.
- Jack O’Lantern: a lantern made of a pumpkin usually cut to resemble a human face, often scary.
- Graveyard: a place, often next to a church, where dead people are buried. It is normally associated with smaller rural churches, as opposed to cemeteries, located in larger urban areas.
- Parade: a public procession, especially one celebrating a special day or event
- Haunted house: a house often perceived as being inhabited by disembodied spirits of the deceased who may have been former residents or were familiar with the building.
Wishing you a happy Halloween!
For more English tips, take a look to the posts below 😉