Originally, in Celtic culture, it marked the beginning of the new year on November 1. The day was named Samhain.
The word Halloween or Hallowe'en dates to about 1745 and is of Christian origin, It means "hallowed evening" or "holy evening" and comes from a Scottish term for All Hallows' Eve (the evening before All Hallows' Day).
In Scots, the word "eve" is even, and this is contracted to e'en or een. Over time, (All) Hallow(s) Eve(n) evolved into Halloween. Although the phrase "All Hallows'" is found in Old English (ealra halgena mæssedæg, all saints mass-day), "All Hallows' Eve" is itself not seen until 1556.
Spooky stories were associated with Halloween. It was said that on October 31, the dead return to earth. In fact, many priests claimed that on that night, they could communicate with departed souls.
The pagans also believed that the ghosts helped them predict what would happen in the upcoming year and control any danger threatning the world.
However, with the advent of Christianity, the pagan beliefs slowly eroded and November 1 was declared All Saints Day. But certain features, like the trick or treat ritual, stayed on. The Halloween witch with her broomstick became a part of the popular imagination in the West. To this day, children dressed as witches go knocking from door to door, asking "Trick or treat?"
Though the pagan concept of Halloween has faded, the pumpkin, candy corn, bonfire and scary costumes, all associated with the old rituals, continue to be a part of the celebrations. And this is the tradition that inspires theme parties everywhere.
Halloween around the world
In New York City, Halloween is a big deal and even had its own website -- Halloween NYC is packed with information on where to spend the weekend and has some great deals still available at many of the city's hotels.
Canada hosts some impressive community Halloween celebrations, such as that in the village of Snug Cove on British Columbia's Bowen Island, where hundreds of islanders and tourists watch fireworks and see Morris Dancing performances. In Ontario, Canada's Wonderland theme park has several attractions just for the festival, with the park open in the dark and hundreds of actors on hand to scare the living daylights out of guests.
Ireland boasts a packed program too, from the traditional torch-lit Celtic procession to Hill of Ward near Dublin to the huge Banks of the Foyle Halloween Carnival of Lights in Derry, which welcomes over 40,000 revelers.
Travel blog Ciao Bambino has highlighted some of its best things to do in London, including the Wicked Day at London's St Pancras Station (very Gothic) and ghost story readings at Harrod's, one of the city's most famous tourist attractions.
In Paris, Disneyland is promising that its Halloween Festival will be even more spooky and scary, with a Halloween Showtime featuring Disney villains and a special Halloween Party on October 31.
Dos and don'ts
>> If your planning to celebrate Halloween with your kids that it is merely a fun festival, and there aren't any real ghosts out there
>> Explain to them the relevance of the festival. It's important that they look at it from a right perspective
>> Don't involve those who don't believe in it. Remember, it is more of a Western concept, and many might not be too comfortable with it
>> Involve adventurous oldies, too
>> However hideous, make sure your garb doesn't hamper breathing
>> Go in a group. Avoid unknown crowds
>> Don't get too close to fire