What is Halloween, and why do we celebrate it?

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The American Halloween holiday is celebrated on October 31, which in recent years has gained many fans in Europe as well. But what is its history and how did pumpkins with human features become so central to the celebration?

Halloween is coming on October 31st, this month’s last Monday. The night of terror, at least pretend, for a series of countries all around the planet. Halloween is celebrated mainly in the Anglo-Saxon world, in the UK and USA, but also in Italy, Germany, Russia, Romania, and of course Switzerland. It is also celebrated in countries of the far east such as China, Japan, Philippines, and Singapore, but also in Dubai. 

Halloween Origins

Experts disagree about the origins of this holiday. Many argue that it has always been a Christian holiday. Others believe that many of the traditions of Halloween have their roots in Celtic end-of-harvest celebrations, particularly the Irish celebration of Samhain, which was later incorporated into the Christian calendar.

The word Halloween comes from All-hallow-even and refers to the eve of All Saints Day (All Hallows Day – All Saints Day). The celebration has a mystical aspect and during it children wear costumes and go out for "trick or treat".

Its pagan roots can be found, according to one theory, in the celebrations in honor of Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruits and berries, or according to another in Parentalia, the Feast of the Dead. From the 8th century AD it is directly linked to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain which marks the end of summer and the start of preparations for the coming of winter. A common point of reference for all these holidays was their date: the last day of October and the first of November.

The Jack O’ Lantern Myth

Characteristic of the day is the decoration of the houses with pumpkins bearing human characteristics. The pumpkin carving custom comes from an old Irish legend. In it, a lazy but brilliant farmer, Jack, manages to trick and trap the devil. In fact, he refuses to release him until they reach an agreement. Finally, he agrees to set him free, on the condition that when he dies, the devil will not let him enter hell. The deal is kept, and Jack's spirit makes pumpkin lanterns, puts a candle in them, and wanders the length and breadth of the Earth to find a place to rest.

That's why pumpkins are called Jack O' Lantern in English.

In the US, Halloween began to be celebrated in the 1840s, when Irish Catholics brought the custom to their new homeland. The Irish believed that placing a candle in the pumpkin (originally turnips or potatoes were used instead of pumpkin) kept evil spirits away.

What will you do on October 31st?

Halloween is the eve of the Christian holiday of All Hallows' Day, and it's customary to light lanterns on carved pumpkins, light bonfires in the open air, play pranks, go to scary places, read horror stories, see a lot of horror movies and, above all, masquerade parties where people pretending to be ghosts, witches, zombies and many more,  do their best to scare others.

Things to do with kids during Halloween in Zurich

  1. If you want to participate in all the Halloween fun check out the pumpkin sculptures at Juckerhof in Seegräben and Bächlihof Jona, where you can also buy and carve pumpkins of all possible sizes.  
  2. A visit to the Zoological & Paleontological Museum of Zurich can satisfy your children's curiosity about spiders and bats while they learn about their origins from the days of the dinosaurs and the history of different types of animals.  Entrance is free and it is open daily except Mondays.  
  3. For teens of 14+ years old and their parents, why not spend an afternoon an escape room where you are called to unravel a mysterious murder in a haunted house that a previous detective left unsolved.  
For more ideas during Halloween click our guest article on Fresh Air Kids!


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