Reading Comprehension: “Halloween”

Happy Monday everyone!

People from all around the world are getting ready to dress up  and scare their friends this week, because Wednesday is Halloween.

Origin of Halloween

Halloween is a holiday with ancient roots that had a much greater meaning than the boisterous, costume-filled holiday that we know today. Around 2,000 years ago, the Celts, who lived in what is now the United Kingdom, Ireland, and northern France, had a festival commemorating the end of the year. Their New Year was November 1, and this festival was called Samhain, pronounced sow-en. The end of their year signaled the end of summer, the end of the harvest season, and the beginning of a long, hard winter that often caused many deaths of animals and people. Weaker livestock were often killed and eaten during this holiday, since most likely, they would not survive the winter anyway. They believed the night before the New Year, that the wall between the living and the dead was open, allowing spirits of the dead, both good and bad, to mingle among the living.

Samhain was considered a magical holiday, and there are many stories about what the Celtics practiced and believed during this festival. Some say the spirits that were unleashed were those that had died in that year, and offerings of food and drink were left to aid the spirits, or to ward them away. Other versions say the Celts dressed up in outlandish costumes and roamed the neighborhoods making noise to scare the spirits away.

Faeries were believed to roam the land during Samhain, dressed as beggars asking for food door to door. Those that gave food to the faeries were rewarded, while those that did not were punished by the faeries. This is reported to be the first origin of the modern “trick or treat” practice.

Over the next several hundred years, Christianity had spread to include the lands inhabited by the Celtics and the Romans, but the festival of Samhain was still celebrated by the people. The Christian church reportedly did not like a festival with Pagan roots practiced by Christians, so a replacement was needed. Pope Boniface IV designated May 13 as All Saints Day to honour dead church saints and martyrs. Samhain continued to be celebrated, so in 835 A.D., Pope Gregory IV moved the holiday to November 1, probably to take attention away from the Pagan Samhain festival and replace it. Since All Saints Day was sanctioned by the church, and related to the dead, the church was happy, but many Pagan traditions of Samhain continued to be practiced, including bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costume. All Saints Day was also known as All Hallows, or All Hallowmas (Hallowmas is Old English for All Saints Day). Since Samhain was celebrated the night before November 1, the celebration was known as All Hallows Eve, and later called Halloween. In the year 1000 A.D., the church designated November 2 as All Souls Day, to honour the dead who were not saints, and they eventually became combined and celebrated as Hallowmas.

On All Souls Day in England, the poor would “go a-souling”. They would go door to door asking for food, and in return, would pray for the souls of their dead relatives.

As you see, the history behind Halloween mixes the fantastical with the real, and is full of legends and myths. If you want to read more, visit the Halloween website.

Vocabulary

Boisterous - very noisy and active in a lively way.

Commemorating - to do something special in order to remember and honor (an important event or person from the past).

Weaker - having little physical power or ability : not strong.

Livestock - farm animals (such as cows, horses, and pigs) that are kept, raised, and used by people.

Mingle - to move around during a party, meeting, etc., and talk informally with different people.

Unleashed - to allow or cause (something very powerful) to happen suddenly.

Aid - to provide what is useful or necessary; help.

Ward – to avoid being hit by (something).

Outlandish - very strange or unusual : extremely different from what is normal or expected.

Roam - to go to different places without having a particular purpose or plan.

Reportedly - according to what has been said — used to indicate what has been said or reported.

Sanctioned - to officially accept or allow (something).

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About the author  ⁄ Kate

I have been teaching English for 9 years. I currently work for ABA English but I also teach English in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I love vegan cooking, my pets and everything to do with social media!

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