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Pumpkins and sweets may be the focus of modern-day Halloween – Tesco alone sells three million of the orange squashes in the run-up to 31st October – but the spookiest night of the year has its roots in ancient pagan tradition. The early Celts of Ireland and Britain believed that the eve of their feast of Samhain was a time of fear, when the world of the dead opened and ghosts and demons walked the earth, so they wore masks and lit bonfires to ward off the spirits. The festival fused with the Catholic Church’s All Saints Day, also known as All Hallows Day (1st Nov), and the rest is Halloween history.

Trick or treat?

The Irish have long celebrated All Hallows Eve – or Halloween – with apple bobbing (apples are put in a big bowl and players have to catch them with their teeth), dressing up, lighting bonfires and making jack o’lanterns from pumpkins and turnips. They took their celebrations with them when they migrated to the US in the 19th century. From there the festival (and pumpkin profits) grew, and Halloween in the US today is seriously big business with outlandish costumes, pumpkins, spiders’ webs and witches galore.

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Day of the Dead

In many parts of the world, the festival is focused on remembering the dead with affection rather than being scared witless by them. Mexico’s Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) is the most famous celebration of them all. All Hallows Eve, 31st October, is children’s night. Youngsters make altars out of food and drink, toys and pictures of deceased children to encourage the angelitos, or spirits of dead children, to visit. The following night (All Saints Day) is the time for the adult spirits to call, again tempted by tasty altars – with added tequila this time. And, of course, skulls are everywhere.

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Ghouls around the globe

Pão por Deus
Portuguese children celebrate Pão por Deus on All Saints Day. The name means ‘Bread for God’s sake’, and groups of kids go house-to-house, and shop-to-shop, asking for ‘Pão por Deus’. Householders and shopkeepers hand out cakes, nuts, chocolate and even a little hard cash along the way.

Tutti i Morti
Italian families remember their departed loved ones on Tutti i Morti (All Souls Day) with a visit to the cemetery, and in some spook-filled areas children might even receive small gifts from their dead ancestors.

Pangangaluluwa
In the Philippines, people return to their home town and visit the local cemetery, sometimes spending the whole night there singing karaoke or playing games. Halloween night itself is called Pangangaluluwa in Tagalog, and children used to dress up and go around the neighbourhood singing for gifts of food or money.

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