Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Hallowe'en in the United States

What do Americans do?
Hallowe'en is usually celebrated amongst family, friends and, sometimes, co-workers. However, some areas hold large community events. Parties and other events may be planned on October 31st or in the weekends before and after this date. Adults may celebrate by watching horror films, holding costume parties or creating haunted houses or graveyards. Many children dress up in fancy costumes and visit other homes in the neighborhood. At each house, they demand sweets, snacks or a small gift. If they do not get this, they threaten to do some harm to the inhabitants of the house. This is known as playing 'trick-or-treat' and is supposed to happen in a friendly spirit, with no nasty or mean tricks being carried out. However, if your children take part, it is important to accompany them and to check their 'treats' to make sure they are safe to eat or play with. Some families carve lanterns with 'scary' faces out of pumpkins or other vegetables or decorate their homes and gardens in Hallowe'en style. These were traditionally intended to ward off evil spirits. If you are at home on Hallowe'en, it is a good idea to have a bowl of small presents or sweets to offer to anyone who knocks on your door. This will help you to please the little spirits in your neighborhood! One cause that ties with Hallowe'en is collecting donations for the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund - UNICEF. As children trick-or-treat on Hallowe'en night, some of them might carry small cardboard boxes with the UNICEF logo on them and collect coins instead of the usual candy. The money collected is then given to UNICEF and used to help needy children worldwide.

Background
Hallowe'en originated as a pagan festival in parts of Northern Europe, particularly around what is now the United Kingdom. Many European cultural traditions hold that Hallowe'en is a time when magic is most potent and spirits can make contact with the physical world. In Christian times, it became a celebration of the evening before All Saints’ Day. Immigrants from Scotland and Ireland brought the holiday to the United States. The commercialization of Hallowe'en started in the 1900s, when postcards and die-cut paper decorations were produced. Hallowe'en costumes started to appear in stores in the 1930s and the custom of 'trick-or-treat' appeared in the 1950s. The types of products available in Halloween style increased with time. Now Halloween is a very profitable holiday for the manufacturers of costumes, yard decorations and candy.

Symbols
There are various symbols associated with Hallowe'en. These include the spooks, ghosts and walking skeletons that represent the contact between the spiritual and physical world and between the living and the dead. Human figures that are often represented on Hallowe'en are witches and wizards, who are seen to have the power to contact the spirit world. Bats, black cats and spiders are often connected with this holiday. These animals are associated with the night and darkness and often accompany witches and wizards. There are also a range of objects associated with Hallowe'en. These include blood, fire, gravestones, pumpkins, bones and skulls. They all have connections with death, the spirit world or protecting property from evil spirits. Many of these objects are now available in stores as decorations for the Hallowe'en season.
(abridged)
A group of children playing Trick or Treat - ©iStockphoto.com/ sjlocke
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Oh, by the way: May you have a frightfully happy Hallowe'en!

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