Halloween, also called All Hallows Eve, is a holiday celebrated on the night of October 31st. Halloween activities include trick-or-treating, ghost tours, bonfires, costume parties, visiting "haunted houses", and carving jack-o-lanterns. Irish immigrants carried versions of the tradition to North America in the nineteenth century. Other western countries embraced the holiday in the late twentieth century. Halloween is celebrated in several countries of the Western world, most commonly in Ireland, the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and occasionally in parts of Australia. Because the holiday comes in the wake of the annual apple harvest, candy apples are a common Halloween treat made by rolling whole apples in a sticky sugar syrup, and sometimes rolling them in nuts.
The modern holiday of Halloween has its origins in the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain. The festival of Samhain is a celebration of the end of the harvest season in Gaelic culture, and is sometimes regarded as the "Celtic New Year". Traditionally, the festival was a time used by the ancient pagans to take stock of supplies and slaughter livestock for winter stores. The ancient Gaels believed that on October 31st, the boundary between the alive and the deceased dissolved, and the dead become dangerous for the living by causing problems such as sickness or damaged crops. The festivals would frequently involve bonfires, where the bones of slaughtered livestock were thrown. Costumes and masks were also worn at the festivals in an attempt to mimic the evil spirits or placate them.
The carved pumpkin, lit by a candle inside, is one of Halloween's most prominent symbols, and is commonly called a jack-o'-lantern. These lanterns were originally carved from a turnip or swede. The jack-o'-lantern can be traced back to the Irish legend of Stingy Jack, a greedy, gambling, hard-drinking old farmer. He tricked the devil into climbing a tree and trapped him by carving a cross into the tree trunk. In revenge, the devil placed a curse on Jack, condemning him to forever wander the earth at night. The carving of pumpkins is associated with Halloween in North America, where pumpkins were readily available and much larger. Many families that celebrate Halloween carve a pumpkin into a frightening or comical face and place it on their home's doorstep after dark. The carved pumpkin was originally associated with harvest time in general in America and did not become specifically associated with Halloween until the mid-to-late 19th century.
The imagery surrounding Halloween is largely an amalgamation of the Halloween season itself, commercialization, and the influence of scary movies. Halloween imagery tends to involve death, magic, or mythical monsters. Traditional characters include ghosts, ghouls, witches, vampires, bats, owls, black cats, spiders, goblins, zombies, mummies, skeletons, and demons. Particularly in America, symbolism is inspired by classic horror films, which contain fictional figures like Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, and The Mummy. Elements of the autumn season, such as pumpkins and scarecrows, are also prevalent. Homes and their front yards are often decorated with these types of symbols around Halloween. The traditional colors of Halloween are black and orange. Black represents death, night, witches, black cats, bats, vampires, fear, ghostliness, and silence while orange represents pumpkins, Jack O' lanterns, Autumn, the turning leaves, fire, sunset.
The main event for children of modern Halloween in the United States and Canada is trick-or-treating, in which children disguise themselves in costumes and go door-to-door in their neighborhoods, ringing each doorbell and yelling "trick or treat!" to solicit a gift of candy or similar items. Upon receiving trick-or-treaters, the house occupants (who might also be in costume) often hand out small candies, miniature chocolate bars, nuts, loose change, soda pop, stickers, or even crayons and pencils. Some homes will use sound effects and fog machines to help establish an eerie atmosphere. Children can often accumulate many treats on Halloween night, filling up entire pillow cases, pumpkin-shaped buckets, shopping bags, or large plastic containers. Another way some teens may amuse themselves is by finding a house with candy they like and going back to it over and over with different masks on. Large parties are commonly held on Halloween in which games like bobbing for apples and spooky story telling are common. Pumpkin-carving and costume contests are often held at school. In England and Wales, trick-or-treating does occur, although the practice is regarded by some as a nuisance or even a menacing form of begging.
Halloween costumes are traditionally those of monsters such as vampires, ghosts, skeletons, witches, and devils. Costumes are also based on themes other than traditional horror, such as those of characters from television shows, movies and other pop culture icons.