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Hallowe’en is one of the oldest celebrations in the world, dating back over 2000 years to the time of the Celts who lived in Britain and northern France. It has its roots in the feast of Samhain, which took place on 31 October each year to honour the dead.

It was believed that on Samhain the spirits of the dead would gather together, taking on different forms. Bad spirits would manifest themselves as animals, with the most evil ones becoming cats. In order to keep these spirits away people would dress up in costumes made from the skins and heads of their animals and carry lanterns, made out of turnips, to light their way. These lanterns would be painted or carved with faces in an effort to scare off any evil spirits.

To further appease wandering spirits, large bonfires were lit and Celtic priests would offer sacrifices of crops and animals, make charms and cast spells.

Following the Roman conquest in 43 AD, the celebration of Samhain began to incorporate elements of Pomona, the Roman celebration of the harvest. Foods served during this feast included apples and nuts.

In 835 the date of 1 November was designated as a church holiday to honour all the saints. This became known as All Saints Day or All Hallows. On the day before All Hallows people continued to celebrate the festivals of Samhain and Pomona, which gradually evolved into Hallow’s Eve or Hallowe’en as we know it today.

Hallowe’en is a relatively new holiday in the United States with the first major celebrations taking place in Anoka, Minnesota in 1921. This was followed by New York in 1923 and Los Angeles in 1925. The US was also responsible for the practice of ‘Trick or Treating’ which is said to represent the fairies who went begging door-to-door on Samhain. Those who gave food were rewarded whilst those who refused to help would be in for a hard winter.

The Americans also began the use of pumpkins for lanterns, as they were more freely available than turnips in the US.

Happy Halloween

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