A Brief History of Halloween (intermediate)

People have lots of ideas about Halloween but it is actually a very old celebration. It used to be a Celtic ritual called “Samhain”, to celebrate the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter. The Celts believed that on Samhain ghosts would come and visit them, so they made huge fires to stop any evil spirits visiting too! 

After hundreds of years, new groups began to move in from mainland Europe, bringing Christianity with them. A new festival called “All Hallows’ Day” or “All Saints Day” was introduced. People celebrated this festival on the 1st of November to remember all the people who had died for their beliefs. They wanted to make Samhain more Christian so they changed the name to “All Hallows Eve” and later “Hallowe’en” (now we just say “Halloween”). 

Halloween activities

Most people just like a reason to dress up and scare their friends and eat lots of chocolate, but for some people Halloween is an important night because they believe it is a night when the spirit world is closest to us and magic is strongest. 

There are lots of activities we do on Halloween. The most well-known one is “trick-or-treating” where children dress up (because, traditionally, people dressed up to hide from evil spirits!) and ask for sweets (because, traditionally, poor people asked for food in exchange for prayers against evil!) which is a very

Another well-known feature of Halloween is pumpkins with scary faces, also known as “Jack-o-lanterns”. There was an old Irish story about a man called Jack who tricks the devil and is forced to walk around the world for eternity. He carries a turnip which has a burning coal inside to give him light, so now we carve faces into pumpkins to protect us against Jack and other demons. People used to use turnips and potatoes for this, but when immigrants moved to the USA they discovered that pumpkins (a vegetable from the USA) were much easier to carve into than other vegetables, so that’s why we use pumpkins now! 

Usually Halloween is associated with children, but many adults love it too! Explore the world of Halloween this October and discover your scary side!

Vocabulary

  • Celt (noun) - a person belonging to a group of people from western Europe who came to live in ancient Britain before the Romans. Celtic is the adjective form. 
  • Ritual (noun) - a set of actions and sometimes words the people perform regularly, especially as part of a ceremony: 
  • Harvest (noun) - the time of year when crops are cut and collected from the fields. 
  • Spirit (noun) - a ghost, or a living thing without a body 
  • Eternity (noun) - time that continues forever 
  • Carve (verb) - to make an object, a shape, or a pattern by cutting wood, stone 
  • Demon (noun) - an evil (very bad) spirit

 This post was written by Harriet, one of our trainers at The London School of English.

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