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Many fears and superstitions grew up about this day. An old Scotch superstition was that witches those who had sold their souls to the devil left in their beds on Halloween night a stick made by magic to look like themselves. Then they would fly up the chime attended by a black cat.

In Ireland, and some other parts of Great Britain, it was believed, that fairies spirited away young wives, whom they returned dazed and amnesic 366 days later.

When Halloween night fell, people in some places dressed up and tried to resemble the souls of the dead. They hoped that the ghosts would leave peacefully before midnight. They carried food to the edge of town or village and left it for the spirits.

In Wales, they believed that the devil appeared in the shape of a pig, a horse, or a dog. On that night, every person marked a stone and put it in a bonfire. If a persons stone was missing the next morning, he or she would die within a year.

Much later, when Christianity came to Great Britain and Ireland, the Church wisely let the people keep their old feast. But it gave it a new association when in the 9th century a festival in honour of all saints (All Hallows) was fixed on November 1. In the 11th century November 2 became All Souls Day to honour the souls of the dead, particularly those who died during the year.

Christian tradition included the lighting of bonfires and carring blazing torches all around the fields. In some places masses of flaming staw were flung into the air. When these ceremonies were over, everyone returned home to feast on the new crop of apples and nuts, which are the traditional Halloween foods. On that night, people related their experience with strange noises and spooky shadows and played traditional games.

Halloween customs today follow many of the ancient traditions, though their significance has long since disappeared.

A favourite Halloween custom is to make a jack-j-lantern. Children take out the middle of the pumpkin, cut hole holes for the eyes, nose and mouth in its side and, finally, they put a candle inside the pumpkin to scare their friends. The candle burning inside makes the orange face visible from far away on a dark night and the pulp makes a delicious pumpkin-pie.

People in England and Ireland once carved out beets, potatoes, and turnips to make jack-o-lanterns on Halloween. When the Scots and Irish came to the United States, they brought their customs with them. But they began to carve faces on pumpkins because they were more plentiful in autumn than turnips. Nowadays, British carve faces on pumpkins, too.

According to an Irish legend, jack-o-lanterns were named for a man called Jack who was notorious for his drunkenness and being stingy. One evening at the local pub, the Devil appeared to take his soul. Clever Jack persuaded the Devil to have one drink together before we go. To pay for his drink the Devil turned himself into a sixpence. Jack immediately put it into his wallet. The Devil couldnt escape from it because it had a catch in the form of a cross. Jack released the Devil only when the latter promised to leave him in peace for another year. Twelve months later, Jack played another practical joke on the Devil, letting him down from a tree only on the promise that he would never purse him again. Finally, Jacks body wore out. He could not enter heaven because he was a miser. He could not enter hell either, because he played jokes on the Devil. Jack was in despair. He begged the Devil for a live coal to light his way out of the dark. He put it into a turnip and, as the story goes, is still wandering around the earth with his lantern.

Halloween is something called Beggars Night or Trick or Treat night. Some people celebrate Beggars Night as Irish children did in the 17th century. They dress up as ghosts and witches and go into the streets to beg. And children go from house to house and say: Trick or treat!, meaning Give me a treat or Ill play a trick on you. Some groups of ghosts chant Beggars Night rhymes:

Trick or treat,

Smell our feet.

We want something

Good to eat.

In big cities Halloween celebrations often include special decorating contests. Young people are invited to soap shop-windows, and they get prizes for the best soap-drawings.

: 30/06/2009