English Vocabulary for Halloween

Autumn is here (where I am living certainly) and is commonly seen as the stepping stone (route, how to get to another place) from Summer to Winter and of course Christmas and the New Year.

When we think of Autumn our thoughts turn to Halloween and when we think of Halloween we dream about costumes, dressing up (putting on different clothes) family games such as “bobbing the apple” (explained below) and of course the tradition of “trick or treating” (children dressing in costumes and calling on the neighbours offering to do a trick, tell a story or a joke in exchange for a treat – candy or sweets).  This festival (annual event of celebration) is probably the second biggest festival after Christmas. Huge amounts of money are spent on costumes and wigs and spooky (scary) masks.

The history of Halloween stretches back many centuries and is a pagan festival. The tradition originally comes from Ireland. Today in Christian world November the 1st is known as All Saints Day (All Hallows). In pagan times it was believed to be a time when the souls of dead people returned to earth and the day before or All Hallows Eve (now shortened to Halloween) was a night of celebration before Samhain (pronounced Sow-in) which is a Celtic /Gaelic word. Even today in Irish Gaelic language November is still called Samhain.

Pumpkins or turnips were used as lanterns (lights). The turnip or pumpkin was hollowed out and a candle placed inside to ward off (scare away) evil spirits. Known today as Jack O’Lanterns they are sold in their millions and carved out by families all over the northern hemisphere.

The religious aspects are now largely ignored but the celebration continues to grow. Houses, streets and shops are decorated with anything connected with the dark world of witches, evil spirits and skeletons.

English Vocabulary for Halloween - Halloween Games

Bobbing the apple: A family game where apples are placed in a basin (shallow bucket) with water. The apples float in the water and you take it in turns (one after another) to try and pick up an apple in the water with your teeth. You cannot use your hands. It is not easy and lots of water is splashed around accompanied by much laughter.

A ring in a cake: An ancient tradition was for single girls to try and find a husband. There were lots of old superstitions concerning this practice. Elderly relatives baked a cake (a barmbrack – Gaelic cake) and buried (hid) a ring in the cake. The superstition was that whoever got the slice or piece of cake containing the ring would get married before the next Halloween. Sometimes other items like coins would be added which would possibly signify wealth coming to whoever got the coin.

English Vocabulary for Halloween - Learn English Words

stepping stone – route, how to get to another place
to dress up – to put on different clothes
spooky – scary
lantern – light, light source
basin – shallow bucket
to take turns – to do something one after another
to bury – to hide