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Halloween is a holiday celebrated on the night of October 31. Traditional activities include trick-or-treating, bonfires, costume parties, visiting “haunted houses” and carving jack-o-lanterns. Irish and Scottish immigrants carried versions of the tradition to North America in the nineteenth century. Other western countries embraced the holiday in the late twentieth century including Ireland, the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and the United Kingdom as well as of Australia and New Zealand.

Halloween has its origins in the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain (pronounced “sah-win”).

The festival of Samhain is a celebration of the end of the harvest season in Gaelic culture. Samhain was a time used by the ancient pagans to take stock of supplies and prepare for winter. The ancient Gaels believed that on October 31, the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead overlapped and the deceased would come back to life and cause havoc such as sickness or damaged crops.

The festival would frequently involve bonfires. It is believed that the fires attracted insects to the area which attracted bats to the area. These are additional attributes of the history of Halloween.

Masks and consumes were worn in an attempt to mimic the evil spirits or appease them.

Trick-or-treating, is an activity for children on or around Halloween in which they proceed from house to house in costumes, asking for treats such as confectionery with the question, “Trick or treat?” The “trick” part of “trick or treat” is a threat to play a trick on the homeowner or his property if no treat is given. Trick-or-treating is one of the main traditions of Halloween. It has become socially expected that if one lives in a neighborhood with children one should purchase treats in preparation for trick-or-treaters.

The history of Halloween has evolved.  The activity is popular in the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, and due to increased American cultural influence in recent years, imported through exposure to US television and other media, trick-or-treating has started to occur among children in many parts of Europe, and in the Saudi Aramco camps of Dhahran, Akaria compounds and Ras Tanura in Saudi Arabia. The most significant growth — and resistance is in the United Kingdom, where the police have threatened to prosecute parents who allow their children to carry out the “trick” element. In continental Europe, where the commerce-driven importation of Halloween is seen with more skepticism, numerous destructive or illegal “tricks” and police warnings have further raised suspicion about this game and Halloween in general.

In Ohio, Iowa, and Massachusetts, the night designated for Trick-or-treating is often referred to as Beggars Night.

Part of the history of Halloween  is Halloween costumes. The practice of dressing up in costumes and begging door to door for treats on holidays goes back to the Middle Ages, and includes Christmas wassailing. Trick-or-treating resembles the late medieval practice of “souling,” when poor folk would go door to door on Hallowmas (November 1), receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day (November 2). It originated in Ireland and Britain, although similar practices for the souls of the dead were found as far south as Italy. Shakespeare mentions the practice in his comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1593), when Speed accuses his master of “puling [whimpering, whining], like a beggar at Hallowmas.”

Yet there is no evidence that souling was ever practiced in America, and trick-or-treating may have developed in America independent of any Irish or British antecedent. There is little primary Halloween history documentation of masking or costuming on Halloween — in Ireland, the UK, or America — before 1900. The earliest known reference to ritual begging on Halloween in English speaking North America occurs in 1911, when a newspaper in Kingston, Ontario, near the border of upstate New York, reported that it was normal for the smaller children to go street guising (see below) on Halloween between 6 and 7 p.m., visiting shops and neighbors to be rewarded with nuts and candies for their rhymes and songs. Another isolated reference appears, place unknown, in 1915, with a third reference in Chicago in 1920. The thousands of Halloween postcards produced between the turn of the 20th century and the 1920s commonly show children but do not depict trick-or-treating. Ruth Edna Kelley, in her 1919 history of the holiday, The Book of Hallowe’en, makes no mention of such a custom in the chapter “Hallowe’en in America.” It does not seem to have become a widespread practice until the 1930s, with the earliest known uses in print of the term “trick or treat” appearing in 1934, and the first use in a national publication occurring in 1939. Thus, although a quarter million Scots-Irish immigrated to America between 1717 and 1770, the Irish Potato Famine brought almost a million immigrants in 1845–1849, and British and Irish immigration to America peaked in the 1880s, ritualized begging on Halloween was virtually unknown in America until generations later.

Trick-or-treating spread from the western United States eastward, stalled by sugar rationing that began in April 1942 during World War II and did not end until June 1947.

Early national attention to trick-or-treating was given in October 1947 issues of the children’s magazines Jack and Jill and Children’s Activities, and by Halloween episodes of the network radio programs The Baby Snooks Show in 1946 and The Jack Benny Show and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet in 1948. The custom had become firmly established in popular culture by 1952, when Walt Disney portrayed it in the cartoon Trick or Treat, Ozzie and Harriet were besieged by trick-or-treaters on an episode of their television show, and UNICEF first conducted a national campaign for children to raise funds for the charity while trick-or-treating.

Trick-or-treating on the prairie. Although some popular histories of Halloween have characterized trick-or-treating as an adult invention to rechannel Halloween activities away from vandalism, nothing in the historical record supports this theory. To the contrary, adults, as reported in newspapers from the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s, typically saw it as a form of extortion, with reactions ranging from bemused indulgence to anger. Likewise, as portrayed on radio shows, children would have to explain what trick-or-treating was to puzzled adults, and not the other way around. Sometimes even the children protested: for Halloween 1948, members of the Madison Square Boys Club in New York City carried a parade banner that read “American Boys Don’t Beg.”

A jack-o’-lantern (sometimes also spelled Jack O’Lantern) is typically a carved pumpkin. It is associated chiefly with the holiday Halloween. Typically the top is cut off, and the inside flesh then scooped out; an image, usually a monstrous face, is carved onto the outside surface, and the lid replaced. During the night, a candle is placed inside to illuminate the effect. The term is not particularly common outside North America, although the practice of carving lanterns for Halloween is.

In folklore, an old Irish folk tale tells of Jack, a lazy yet shrewd farmer who uses a cross to trap the Devil. One story says that Jack tricked the Devil into climbing an apple tree, and once he was up there Jack quickly placed crosses around the trunk or carved a cross into the bark, so that the Devil couldn’t get down. Another myth says that Jack put a key in the Devil’s pocket while he was suspended upside-down;

Another version of the myth says that Jack was getting chased by some villagers from whom he had stolen, when he met the Devil, who claimed it was time for him to die. However, the thief stalled his death by tempting the Devil with a chance to bedevil the church-going villagers chasing him. Jack told the Devil to turn into a coin with which he would pay for the stolen goods (the Devil could take on any shape he wanted); later, when the coin/Devil disappeared, the Christian villagers would fight over who had stolen it. The Devil agreed to this plan. He turned himself into a silver coin and jumped into Jack’s wallet, only to find himself next to a cross Jack had also picked up in the village. Jack had closed the wallet tight, and the cross stripped the Devil of his powers; and so he was trapped. In both myths, Jack only lets the Devil go when he agrees never to take his soul. After a while the thief died, as all living things do. Of course, his life had been too sinful for Jack to go to heaven; however, the Devil had promised not to take his soul, and so he was barred from Hell as well. Jack now had nowhere to go. He asked how he would see where to go, as he had no light, and the Devil mockingly tossed him an ember that would never burn out from the flames of hell. Jack carved out one of his turnips (which was his favorite food), put the ember inside it, and began endlessly wandering the Earth for a resting place. He became known as “Jack of the Lantern”, or Jack-o’-Lantern.

There are variations on the legend:

Some versions include a “wise and good man”, or even God helping Jack to prevail over the Devil.
There are different versions of Jack’s bargain with the Devil. Some variations say the deal was only temporary but the Devil, embarrassed and vengeful, refuses Jack entry to hell after Jack dies.
Jack is considered a greedy man and is not allowed into either heaven or hell, without any mention of the Devil.

Despite the colorful legends, the term jack-o’-lantern originally meant a night watchman, or man with a lantern, with the earliest known use in the mid-17th century; and later, meaning an ignis fatuus or will-o’-the-wisp. In Labrador and Newfoundland, both names “Jacky Lantern” and “Jack the Lantern” refer to the will-o’-the-wisp concept rather than the pumpkin carving aspect.

Halloween costumes are outfits worn on or around October 31, the day of Halloween. Halloween is a modern-day holiday originating in the Pagan Celtic holiday of Samhain (in Christian times, the eve of All Saints Day). Although popular histories of Halloween claim that the practice goes back to ancient celebrations of Samhain, in fact there is little primary documentation of masking or costuming on Halloween before the twentieth century. Costuming became popular for Halloween parties in America in the early 1900s, as often for adults as for children. The first mass-produced Halloween costumes appeared in stores in the 1930s when trick-or-treating was becoming popular in the United States.

What sets Halloween costumes apart from costumes for other celebrations or days of dressing up is that they are often designed to imitate supernatural and scary beings. Costumes are traditionally those of monsters such as vampires, ghosts, skeletons, witches, and devils. There are also costumes of pop culture figures like presidents, or film, television, and cartoon characters. Another popular trend is for women (and in some cases, men) to use Halloween as an excuse to wear particularly revealing costumes, showing off more skin than would be socially acceptable otherwise.


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