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Old 10-31-2017, 11:12 AM
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Default What Does Trick or Treat Mean? History and Reason of this Halloween Tradition

What Does Trick or Treat Mean? History and Reason of this Halloween Tradition

Halloween will be celebrated tomorrow on October 31, 2017, all over the world and will be followed by All Saints' Day on November 1.

Halloween is a major festival in Western countries and has picked up in India too over the years. We’ve often seen Halloween being depicted in movies and English TV serials but seldom stopped to think why it is celebrated. You might have heard about Halloween from Harry Potter or Goosebumps or the umpteen numbers of TV serials and movies that depict the festival. On Halloween people dress up in costumes which are often gothic and scary in nature, carve pumpkins into Jack O’ Lanterns and go trick-or-treating, but what does it all mean and what is the meaning behind this seemingly bizarre festival where everyone tries to dress up in the scariest way possible? Halloween will be celebrated tomorrow on October 31, 2017, all over the world and will be followed by All Saints’ Day on November 1.
Halloween or Hallowe’en (comes from All Hallows’ Evening) is also known as Allhalloween, All Hallows’ Eve, or All Saints’ Eve is a spooky festival which is celebrated in a number of European countries on October 31, every year. It is celebrated on the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day which is also known as All Saints’ Day. The Halloween culture that we Indians have generally witnessed through TV Shows and Hollywood movies originated in Celtic regions of Ireland and Britain and has been Americanized today with other Christian traditions and conventions that were brought to the US by the immigrants.

History behind Halloween

The origin of the festival cannot be pinpointed to a specific date or time period but it has both pagan and Christian roots and over the years it has evolved into what Halloween is like today. Some believe that Halloween comes from the Celtic pagan festival of Samhain, meaning ‘Summer’s End’ which is celebrated at the end of the harvest season. Gaels believed that during this time the barrier between the spirit world and the living world was at its thinnest and becomes porous making spirits pass through to the realm of the living, come back to life on this day and damage their crops. So in order to appease the spirits Gaels would offer food and drink and light bonfires to ward off evil spirits and keep negativity at bay. People went door-to-door in costume to ask for food in exchange for a song or a poem. They dressed up as souls of the dead so that they can be protected from the spirits by impersonating them. This dressing up and trick-or-treating originated in 16th century Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

The Christian origin of Halloween comes from the fact that it falls on the day before the feast of All Hallows. The feast was set in the eighth century to banish the pagan celebration prevalent in those days. Christians prayed for souls who have not been able to reach heaven.

Dressing Up

Celts dressed up in white to impersonate ghosts and blackened their faces during the festival of Samhain to befuddle the spirits whom they believed to be roaming the earth before All Saints’ Day on November 1. The Church adopted this tradition by the 11th century and called it ‘souling’ which today is taken as the origin or beginning of trick-or-treating. Children went door-to-door dressed up as angels or demons asking for candies and cakes for the souls of their departed friends and relatives. By 19th century souling gave way to guising or mumming. Children offered songs, poetry or jokes instead of prayers in exchange for sweets, cakes and other sweet items.

Halloween trick-or-treating

America, since it is a land of immigrants gave way to what is the popular Halloween tradition of today and the phrase trick-or-treat was also first used here in 1927. Halloween pranks with spooky themes took place of guising in exchange for sweets. Children started experimenting with costumes with Gothic themes, ghosts, zombies and vampires.

Why carve pumpkins into Jack O’ Lantern

This is a tradition that comes from Samhain festival when the Gaels carved turnips to ward off spirits and stop fairies from settling in houses. If you have ever read any book which is based in Ireland you would know that Ireland has a lot of tradition regarding leprechauns, fairies and spirits. The name Jack O’ Lantern comes from an American folklore of Stingy Jack who fooled the devil into buying him a drink and was not let into heaven or hell for this audacity. When he died the devil threw him a smouldering burning ember which he kept in a turnip. Since America saw a huge barrage of Irish immigrants in 1840s they brought their traditions to the new land. However, since they could not find turnips they made it up with pumpkins into which they carved scary faces.

By 1920s, America had developed its own Halloween traditions with pumpkin Jack O’ Lanterns and Halloween became a huge festival with dressing up and trick-or-treating.

All Hallows DayAll Hallows' EveAll Hallows’ EveningAll Saints DayCelticsCeltsChristian celebrationchristian festivalGaelsHalloweenHalloween traditionIrelandJack o' LanternTrick-or-Treating

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