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November 5, 2007

Do you believe in ghosts?

Though many people think it is an American festival, Halloween is a festival which began in Ireland thousands of years ago called Samhain. It was a celebration of the end of the harvest season, when livestock was killed to store for winter.

People believed that on 31st October, the dead would come back to life and cause sickness or other problems. So they made bonfires with bones of animals, and made masks to mimic or to placate the evil spirits. Halloween or Samhain has remained a popular festival in Ireland to this day, and children have a week's holiday from school for the occasion.

The festival was linked in England with the celebrations for All Souls Day on 2nd November – a day for remembering loved ones who had died. 1st November is All Saints Day or All Hallows Day, so Halloween is really All Hallows Eve – the day before All Hallows. On this day, children would go to their neighbours' houses and sing songs for cakes or money.

Halloween was not celebrated in the United States until the 19th century, but has now become one of the biggest festivals of the year there. Irish immigrants had brought with them the traditions of Halloween, such as carving lanterns from turnips. In the USA pumpkins were used instead and now this is popular everywhere.

Other traditions include dressing up in fancy dress and trick or treating – going around knocking on people's doors hoping to receive sweets and threatening a trick or prank if not. These traditions have spread around the world, including back to the UK and Ireland.

In many parts of the world, celebrations are less frivolous, and more closely related to the tradition of remembering the dead. In Mexico, and several other countries, The Day of the Dead is celebrated and involves visiting cemeteries and placing food or flowers on the graves. Lighting candles, singing, dancing and telling stories about the deceased are all part of the celebrations.

So, do you believe the dead will wake on Halloween?

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