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Halloween Around the World

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History of Halloween

Halloween did not become a holiday in America until the 19th century, where lingering Puritan tradition restricted even the observance Christmas prior to the 1800s. American almanacs of the late 18th and early 19th centuries do not include Halloween in their lists of holidays.

The transatlantic migration of nearly two million Irish following the Irish Potato Famine (1845–1849) finally brought the holiday to America. Scottish emigration from the British Isles, primarily to Canada before 1870 and to the United States thereafter, brought the Scottish version of the holiday to each country.

Scottish-American and Irish-American societies held dinners and balls that celebrated their heritages. 

Home parties would center around children's activities, such as bobbing for apples, and various divination games often concerning future romance. Not surprisingly, pranks and mischief were common as well.

Halloween originated under the name of Samhain as a Pagan festival among the Celts of Ireland and Great Britain. Irish and Scottish immigrants carried versions of the tradition to North America in the nineteenth century. Other western countries have embraced the holiday as a part of American pop culture in the late twentieth century.

Halloween is now celebrated in parts of the western world, most commonly in Ireland, the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, the United Kingdom and sometimes in Australia and New Zealand. In recent years, the holiday has also been celebrated in parts of Western Europe.

How Halloween is Celebrated Around the World

IRELAND

Halloween is very popular in Ireland, where it is said to have originated, and is known in Irish as "Oíche Shamhna" or "Samhain Night". Pre-Christian Celts had an autumn festival, Samhain, "End of Summer", a pastoral and agricultural "fire festival" or feast, when the dead revisited the mortal world, and large communal bonfires would hence be lit to ward off evil spirits.

On Halloween night in present-day Ireland, adults and children dress up as creatures from the underworld (e.g., ghosts, ghouls, zombies, witches and goblins), light bonfires, and enjoy spectacular fireworks displays (despite the fact that such displays are usually illegal). The children knock on the neighbors' doors, in order to gather fruit, nuts, and sweets for the Halloween festival. Salt was once sprinkled in the hair of the children to protect against evil spirits.

The houses are frequently adorned with pumpkins or turnips carved into scary faces; lights or candles are sometimes placed inside the carvings to provide an eerie effect. The traditional Halloween cake in Ireland is the barmbrack, which is a fruit bread. Each family member gets one slice. There is a piece of rag, a coin or a ring in each cake; if one gets the rag, then financial prospects are doubtful. Getting a coin indicates a prosperous future, and getting a ring is a sure sign of impending romance or continued happiness.

Games are often played, such as bobbing for apples, where apples, peanuts and other nuts and fruit and some small coins are placed in a basin of water. The apples and nuts float, but the coins, which sink, are harder to catch. Everyone takes turns catching as many items possible using only their mouths. In some households, the coins are embedded in the fruit for the children to "earn" as they catch each apple. The Scottish and English have adapted the tradition to a game named "ducking", in which a participant quickly dunks in a water-filled container in an attempt to get a prize, without being submerged too long. Another common game involves the hands-free eating of an apple hung on a string attached to the ceiling.

Irish children have a week-long Halloween break from school; the last Monday in October is a public holiday given for Halloween even though they often do not fall on the same day

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Scotland

Scotland, having a shared Gaelic culture with Ireland, has celebrated the festival of Samhain (pronounced Sow-win) robustly for many centuries. The autumn festival is pre-Christian Celtic in origin, and is known in Scottish Gaelic as Oidhche Shamhna, the “Summer's night.” During the fire festival, souls of the dead wander the Earth and are free to return to the mortal world until dawn. Traditionally, bonfires and lanterns (samhnag in Scottish Gaelic) would be lit to ward off the phantoms and evil spirits that emerge at midnight. The term Samhainn or Samhuinn is used for the harvest feast, and an t-Samhain is used for the entire month of November.
 
In Scotland, folklore, including that of Halloween, revolves around the ancient Celtic belief in faeries (Sidhe, or Sith, in modern Gaelic). Children who ventured out carried a traditional lantern (samhnag) with a devil face carved into it to frighten away the evil spirits. Such Halloween lanterns were made from a turnip, or “Neep” in “Lowland Scots,” with a candle lit in the hollow inside. In modern times, however, such lanterns use pumpkins, as in North American traditions, possibly because it is easier to carve a face into a pumpkin than into a turnip. Due to this, the practice of hollowing out pumpkins into jack-o'-lanterns may have its roots in this practice.

Houses were also protected with the same candle lanterns. If the spirits got past the protection of the lanterns, the Scottish custom was to offer the spirits parcels of food to leave and spare the house another year. Children, too, were given the added protection by disguising them as such creatures in order to blend in with the spirits. If children approached the door of a house, they were also given offerings of food (Halloween being a harvest festival), which served to ward off the potential spirits that may lurk among them. This is where the origin of the practice of Scottish “guising” (a word that comes from "disguising"), or going about in costume, arose. It is now a key feature of the tradition of trick-or-treating practised in North America.

In modern-day Scotland, this old tradition survives, chiefly in the form of children going door to door "guising" in this manner; that is, dressed in a disguise (often as a witch, ghost, monster, or another supernatural being) and offering entertainment of various sorts. If the entertainment is enjoyed, the children are rewarded with gifts of sweets, fruits, or money. There is no Scottish trick-or-treat tradition as in North America; on the contrary, trick or treating is an outgrowth of these Scottish guising customs.

Popular games played on the holiday include "dooking" for apples (i.e., retrieving an apple from a bucket of water using only one's mouth). In some places, the game has been replaced (because of fears of contracting saliva-borne illnesses in the water) by standing over the bowl holding a fork in one's mouth and releasing it in an attempt to skewer an apple using only gravity. Another popular game is attempting to eat, while blindfolded, a treacle- or jam-coated scone on a piece of string hanging from the ceiling. Sometimes the blindfold is left out, because it is already difficult to eat the scone. In all versions, however, the participants cannot use their hands.

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We could learn a lot from crayons... Some are sharp, some are pretty and some are dull. Some have weird names, and all are different colors, but they all have to live in the same box.

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