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Know More: Halloween

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Halloween is a festival and an annual holiday, which is celebrated on the night of October 31. Building bonfires, attending costume parties, visiting haunted houses and carving pumpkin lanterns are the popular activities performed on Halloween today. However, the origin of this celebration goes back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sah-win) and the Christian holiday known as All Saints' Day.


HISTORY

The Celts lived 2,000 years ago in countries presently known as the United Kingdom, Ireland and France. They celebrated their New Year on November 1. This period marked the end of the summer and harvest period and the beginning of the winter, which was cold and dark in this part of the world. These people also associated the season with death and believed that on the night before Samhain, the boundary between the living and the dead was blurred. They believed that on the night of October 31, the ghosts of the dead would return to Earth and would damage the community's food supplies. The people observed the festival by burning crops. They wore costumes made of animal skins and would tell each other's fortunes depending on the choice of animal. At the end of the celebration, they lit their fireplace from the sacred bonfire to protect themselves during the coming months.

But this didn't carry on for a long time as the Romans soon conquered their territory and ruled over the land for 400 years. Over the course of time, two Roman festivals were combined with Samhain. One was called Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans commemorated the passing of the dead. The second festival honoured Pomona, the Roman Goddess of fruits and trees. Goddess Pomona's symbol was the apple, which was incorporated into the celebration of Samhain. This is how the tradition of running for apples, which continues till today, began to be practised on Halloween.

Later, the Christian influence spread into the Celtic lands and around this time, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 as All Saints Day to honour saints and martyrs. This celebration was also referred to as All Hallows or All Hallowmas. Eventually, the night before it was called All-Hallows' Eve and then Halloween. 

As time passed, the customs of this festival changed, but the zest to celebrate this festival still continues. The festival lost most of its superstitious and religious ties but many other traditions like dressing in Halloween costumes still continue. Carving Jack-o'-lanterns is also a tradition that came from the Celts, who used turnips instead of pumpkins. 

Witches and black cats have also become mainstream images of Halloween. Trick-or-treating is another tradition still followed. As per this tradition, if someone is not satisfied with the treat you give them, you are likely to get tricked. This evolved into an activity for younger children accompanied by parents.

LEGEND OF THE JACK-O'-LANTERN

The legend of the Jack-o'-lantern starts with a man named Jack, who was a practical joker. He was said to have tricked the devil into climbing onto a tree. He then carved an image of a cross into the tree's trunk, trapping the devil on the highest branches of the tree. Jack made a deal with the devil whereby if the devil never tempted Jack again, he would promise to let him down. Legend says that after Jack died, he was denied entrance into heaven because of his evil ways. Jack was then denied entrance into hell because he had tricked the devil. Instead, the devil gave him a single ember to light his way through the cold, dark winter. Jack placed the light into a hollowed out turnip to keep it lit longer. When the Irish came to America, they found pumpkins to be a lot more plentiful, making the pumpkin the official Jack-o'-lantern.

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