Halloween hăl˝əwēn´, häl˝– [key]
, October 31, the eve of All Saints' Day
, observed with traditional games and customs. The word comes from medieval England's All Hallows' eve [Old Eng. hallow=saint]. Many of these customs are believed to predate Christianity, going back to Celtic practices associated with November 1, which was Samhain sä´wĭn [key]
, the beginning of winter and the Celtic new year. Spirits, or fairies, were said to roam the earth on this evening, playing tricks on human beings to mark the season of diminishing sunlight. Bonfires were lit and offerings were made of food and drink. It has been suggested that people would disguise themselves as one of the roaming spirits, to avoid persecution by them or to accept offerings for them. Survivals of these early practices can be found in countries of Celtic influence today, such as the United States where children go from door to door in costumes demanding
trick or treat.
See studies by Ruth Kelly (1919, repr. 2014) and N. Rogers (2002).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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