The BSC Guide to Halloween

If you’re not from an English speaking country, the idea of dressing up as a ghost, witch or ghoul and putting a candle in a pumpkin might seem a little weird. You might wonder how the holiday came about, and why is it so popular? Luckily, we’re here to explain the origins of Halloween and provide you with all the information you need for your first Halloween celebration. 

The British Study Centres Guide to Halloween

What is the meaning of Halloween?

Halloween is a holiday that is celebrated in much of the English speaking world (including the UK, Ireland, Canada and the United States) which occurs every year on the 31st October. The day is celebrated with activities such as trick-or-treating, carving jack-o-lanterns (pumpkins), festive gatherings, dressing up in scary costumes and eating sweets and chocolate. 

What are the origins of Halloween?

Halloween originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, a festivity that marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. The holiday was celebrated in Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Mann and Wales at the end of autumn. The time was considered a transitional time between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. during which, it was believed to be easier for spirits to enter into the world of the living. 

As Scottish and Irish people migrated to the United States and Canada, they brought the traditions of Samhain to North America, where the festival grew in popularity and gave birth to the Halloween we know today. 

skeletons in a neon room halloween

Where is Halloween celebrated?

Halloween is now celebrated in much of Western Europe and in many other places around the world, although it is most popular in Ireland, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. Versions of the holidays are celebrated elsewhere, too. The most famous being the Mexican holiday, Day of the Dead (or Dia de los Muertos), although the Mexican festival comes from Aztec origins.

What does ‘trick or treat’ mean?

Trick or treating is an important Halloween tradition in which children dress up in scary costumes and go from house to house asking threatening their neighbours with 'tricks' if they do not give them 'treats.'  The ‘trick' is normally an empty threat to damage the owner’s property if they are not given the ‘treat,’ which is normally candy. 

Where did ‘trick or treating’ originate?

From the 16th century, dressing up in costumes formed part of the Celtic festival of Samhain and was known as ‘mumming’ or ‘guising.’ People would go from house to house in costume (or in disguise), usually reciting songs or verses in exchange for food.

In the 19th century Britain and Ireland there are many accounts of people going house to house in costume at Halloween, reciting verses in exchange for food, and sometimes warning of misfortune if they were not welcomed.

Popular Halloween Activities

Pumpkin Carving

Dating back to Celtic times, Irish and Scotish people would carve turnips as offerings for spirits for the festival of Samhain. When Irish and Scottish immigrants settled in the US, they used pumpkins as they were more commonly found there.

Nowadays, pumpkin carving is a popular part of the Halloween festival and people will even have competitions for the most original lantern design.

Fancy Dress Parties

Even if you're not going trick or treating, dressing up in scary costumes for a party is a common part of Halloween. Nowadays, people may dress up as television characters, celebrities and even politicians as well as ghosts and spirits.

Watching Scary Movies

Many people will use Halloween as an opportunity to watch horror movies. Producers of scary movies will often choose Halloween as their release date and cinemas will often screen vintage horror films throughout the month of October.

Apple Bobbing

A typical Halloween activity is apple bobbing. Apple bobbing is a game in which apples are floating in water and people have to retrieve them with their mouths.

We hope you've enjoyed this guide to Halloween. To find out what's happening in our schools this Halloween, follow us on social media.

Blog Updated: Oct 2021