The spookiest night of the year is getting nearer. Thousands of children dressed up as little devils, vampires or witches will go out to the streets to terrorize the neighbourhood: “trick or treat”, they will say and people will fill their bags with sweets and even money.
This anglo-saxon tradition is quickly spreading to other countries thanks to the influence of American films and culture. However, it is not originally an American custom. We can trace it back to the Celts.
The Celts were Indo-European tribes that spread across Northern and Western Europe from the 6th century BC onwards and still remain (or at least their language still remains) in certain areas such as Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Brittany. Following the invasion of Germanic tribes after the fall of the Roman Empire, the Celts migrated to the West where they found refuge in mountainous areas and managed to keep their language and floklore. Today, Irish and Welsh, two languages of Celtic origin are widely spoken.
|Map showing the expansion of Celtic tribes in Europe.|
For the Celts, October 31st was the end of the summer and the beginning of the darker part of the year. They believed that on that night the spirits would come back. They welcomed the good spirits but kept away the bad ones by wearing masks and costumes and carving turnips with faces to put on window sills. They also made bonfires and slaughtered their livestock so as to have food throughout the winter.
With the arrival of Christianity, these pagan rites mingled with the festivity of All Hallows Day or All Saints Day, celebrated on November 1st, and this is where the term “Halloween” derives from: All Hallows eve or evening.
It was the Irish immigrants that took the tradition of Halloween to America and there it evolved and mixed with other cultural elements until it became the celebration we know today.
You can learn the basic Halloween vocabulary with this simple presentation.
The origins of Halloween are explained in this video. Check what you have learnt with the exercises below.