Halloween is just around the corner. It is celebrated on October 31 every year. The word is a contraction of Hallows’ Evening. Hallows means “saints”. Hallows’ Evening was a Christian church event similar to Obon in Japan because it was a time for remembering and praying for the dead. Actually before the Christian church became prominent in Ireland and Scotland, the ancient Celts celebrated the end of the harvest season in a festival called Samhain.
Halloween activities include trick-or-treating, costume parties, carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns, apple bobbing, playing pranks, lighting bonfires, and decorating the outside of houses with macabre themes, such as of witches, bats, spiders, and black cats. Some people enjoy watching horror movies at this time. Some of these activities, such as trick-or-treating, began several hundred years ago. Both pagans and Christians believed that the souls of the dead would return at this time of year, so they prepared food for them. The Christians baked special cakes and children, often poor, would go from door to door offering to say prayers for the souls and in return were given these cakes. In Ireland and Scotland young people would put on disguises or paint their faces and go around to houses asking for food or else they would play pranks. Some believed that wearing costumes would prevent bad spirits from bothering them.
Halloween did not become popular in the United States until the beginning of the 20th century. In the early days of America, Catholics in Maryland celebrated Hallows’ Evening, but the Puritans in New England strictly forbid it. However, from the end of the 19th century many Irish and Scottish immigrants poured into America and they brought their customs with them. In that way Halloween became popular with all Americans all over the country.
In 1974 the yearly New York Halloween Parade began in Greenwich Village. Every year about 60,000 people dress up in costumes and parade through the city. It is the only major parade held at night in America. It is the largest Halloween parade in the world, however, in recent years, Halloween has become popular in Japan, too, and I would not be surprised if some day even bigger Halloween parades were held in Tokyo! I just hope they are not as rowdy as the way Halloween has been celebrated in Shibuya in recent years!