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Happy Halloween

Origins of Halloween steeped in religion

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(CNN) -- Halloween, also known as All Hallows' Eve, is a holiday dating back several centuries. Celebrated on October 31 for more than a millennium, its origin dates back to the observation of the Celtic festival Samhain on the last day of October.

During Samhain, Celts built huge bonfires on hilltops to frighten away evil spirits. The souls of the dead were supposed to revisit their homes on Samhain, leading to the sinister superstition that ghosts, witches, devils, and fairies roamed the earth for that one day. Samhain was also supposed to be the best time for clairvoyants to predict the future.

The Christian holiday of All Hallows' Eve, celebrated on the same date, was originally celebrated on May 13, and was moved to its present date by Gregory III in the eighth century. Both All Hallows' Eve -- known today as Halloween -- and All Saints' Day, which follows on November 1, were designated as days to pray for dead souls that had not passed out of purgatory, in the belief that the prayers of the living will help.

Today, Halloween's significance is largely secular, although Catholic and Protestant churches still observe All Saints'. Children in countries around the world celebrate Halloween in different ways.

In some parts of Great Britain, the holiday celebration includes activities commemorating the capture of a notorious traitor, Guy Fawkes. But mostly, children costume themselves and canvas the street for candy much as children in the United States do. On the other side of the world, Filipino children spend the evening telling each other ghost stories and pulling pranks on their neighbors.

Some Halloween traditions

In the United States, many families hollow out the centers of pumpkins, remove the flesh, and carve faces into the gourds. Some take great pride in their creations, and justifiably so, as they may portray detailed portraits of political figures or landscapes. Pumpkin carving contests are not uncommon.

In Britain, Guy Fawkes Day on November 5 falls so close to Halloween that many children combine the celebrations. They carve out turnip lanterns and take them to collect pennies "for the Guy," dressing up in costume later in the week for trick-or- treating, then capping the week by going to see fireworks displays commemorating the capture of Fawkes, accused in 1605 of trying to blow up the British Parliament and monarch.

Children in many countries go "bobbing for apples" at Halloween parties, a game which involves catching apples, which are floating in a barrel of water, using only your teeth. Ancient folklore had it that a girl could learn the name of the man she would marry by labeling each apple in the barrel with a name. The one she caught would be her future husband.

And haunted houses are popular fare. In the United States, there is a big business around building the scariest haunted house, then attracting paying customers to it. And in some neighborhoods, people vie for scariest house on the block, creating artificial gravestones, hanging "ghosts" in trees, and rigging up speakers to play ghostly music or otherworldly laughing as trick-or-treaters approach the house.

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