Halloween and Bonfire Night

Autumn is a season famous for its harvest times, colourful leaves, cooling temperatures and darkening nights. However, Autumn also has some great traditions and festivities you can take part in!

As the nights draw in and start to become an altogether spookier affair, we have Halloween just around the corner which is originally an American tradition, however we have started celebrating it here in the UK too.

Where did the idea of Halloween come from?

The modern-day idea of Halloween as we know it obviously was not always what the celebration was like, or about originally.

The origin of Halloween can be traced back to the ancient Celts who ruled over Ireland, Britain and Northern France before being conquered by the Romans.

The Celts were pagans and the beginning of November marks the festival Samhain for the Celts. Samhain – which is November in Irish, pronounced sow-in – was the festival that marked the end of summer and the beginning of the harvest season.

Halloween has its roots in the pagan traditions of the Celts, on Samhain they believed that this night marked the night that the door between this world and the next would open and spirits could temporarily pass through, distinctions between the living and the dead became blurred.

How did Halloween reach America?

It was only in the second half of the nineteenth century when Irish immigrants fled to America because of the Great Famine from 1845 to 1852 in Ireland that the popularity of Halloween spread and grew. Halloween had lost most of its spiritual and religious meaning by the early 20th Century because of moves in America to make the festival less scary and more about community spirit.

In America, Halloween is now the second largest commercial celebration after Christmas, and Americans spend $6 billion on Halloween each year.

Where does Trick or Treating come from?

Trick or Treating started on this side of the pond in Ireland, Scotland and Wales and involved people dressing up and going door to door asking for food. People would say poems or sing songs in exchange for food, a tradition that evolved into children saying prayers in return for ‘soul cakes’ in the 11th century. The soul cakes were sweet with a cross on top, similar to hot cross buns, and were intended to represent a spirit being freed from purgatory when eaten. By the 19th century, this had evolved into a tradition where children would sing songs, tells jokes and read poems instead of prayers for pieces of fruit and money. Later, the children would play pranks on people to get them to hand over sweets.

Another Autumn tradition which is celebrated here in the UK is Bonfire Night.

What is Bonfire Night?

On 5 November, people across the UK celebrate Bonfire Night with fireworks, bonfires, sparklers and toffee apples. Many people enjoy playing with sparklers on Bonfire Night. Remember, if you’re doing this, always ask an adult and get them to supervise!

Some might have small fireworks parties in their back gardens, while towns and villages may put on organised displays in public parks.

The reason we do it is because it’s the anniversary of an attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament. This was called the Gunpowder Plot.

When we light bonfires to remember this event, traditionally there will be a dummy man on the top of them. He is called the ‘Guy’ and is a kind of doll that represents a man who was part of the plot, called Guy Fawkes.

What was the Gunpowder Plot?

Guy (Guido) Fawkes was part of the Gunpowder plot in 1605. He wanted to blow up King James I and his government. This was because of religion. England was a Protestant country and the plotters were Catholic. They wanted England to be Catholic again, which they thought they could do if they killed King James I and his ministers.

So, Fawkes and his group put 36 barrels of gunpowder in cellars underneath the Houses of Parliament in London, ready to set off a massive explosion. However, one member of Fawkes’ group sent a letter to his friend who worked in Parliament, warning him to stay away on 5 November.

The King’s supporters got hold of the letter and the plot was rumbled! Guards broke into the cellars where the gunpowder plotters were waiting. They were arrested and executed.

To this day we, still celebrate Bonfire Night by throwing straw dummies that are meant to represent Guy Fawkes onto bonfires!

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