What is Halloween?

In this article about Halloween, we will first look at what the festival is about and then look at the history of Halloween. Finally there is a list of Halloween related English vocabulary.

“When witches go riding, and black cats are seen. The moon laughs and whispers, ’tis near Halloween.” – A Witch’s Journal

“Double, double, toil and trouble. Fire burn and cauldron bubble.” – Macbeth, William Shakespeare


Halloween or Hallowe’en is now celebrated across the world on the night of 31st October and it is a holiday filled with mystery, magic and superstition.

The origins of Halloween date back thousands of years, to pagan times.

It started as a Celtic  festival (Samhain) during which people felt especially close to deceased relatives and friends and they would prepare places at the dinner table for the spirits and left treats on doorsteps and along the side of the road and lit candles to help loved ones find their way back to the spirit world.

Christianity arrived in England and one of the Christian Festivals was “All Hallows’ Day”, also known as “All Saints Day”, a day to remember those who had died for their beliefs.

This was originally celebrated on 13th May, but Pope Gregory had the date of the All Hallows’ feast moved to 1st November sometime in the 8th century. Some people believe that he tried to replace the Celtic Samhain festival of the dead with All Hallow’s feast.

The night or evening of Samhain therefore became known as All-hallows-even then Hallow Eve, still later Hallowe’en and then finally Halloween. A special time of the year when many believe that the spirit world can make contact with the physical world.

Nowadays our ideas of Halloween ghosts have changed and we regard them as more evil and scary. Children dress up in scary costumes and roam from house to house, demanding “trick-or-treat”. Householders normally hand over lots of treats in the form of chocolates, sweets and candy so that this little mischievous children don’t play tricks on them.

Halloween wasn’t really the big commercial celebration in England until recent years. This is probably due to the fact that another big tradition “Bonfire Night” is celebrated on 5 November.

Traditions and Superstitions

Black Cats and Ghosts.

Why do associate black cats with Halloween?

This idea has dates back to the Middle Ages, when many people believed that witches hid from people by turning themselves into black cats. We have a superstition that says we should avoid crossing paths with black cats as that may bring us bad luck.


The wearing of costumes at Halloween goes back to the Samhain festival where people believed that the costumes would scare off any evil spirits or ghosts.

Nowadays children don costumes and go from house to house saying “Trick or treat”.

Adults often wear gory costumes when they go to Halloween parties.


This tradition started in Ireland when people would carve out faces in turnips or pumpkins and place a candle inside to light up the face and ward away ghosts and evil spirits.

carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns, lighting bonfires, apple bobbing

Bobbing for Apples

Also known as apple bobbing, is a game often played on Halloween. A tub or a large basin is filled  with water and apples are put in the water. The apples float and the children try to catch one with their teeth. 

The tradition dates back to the Roman invasion of Britain, when the conquering army merged their own celebrations with traditional Celtic festivals.

Young unmarried people tried to bite into an apple floating in water or hanging from a string on a line; the first person to bite into the apple would be the next one to be allowed to marry. Apples were a sign of fertility and abundance in the Celtic festival Samhain.

English Vocabulary for Halloween.

  • apparition – a transparent ghostly figure
  • banshee – an unhappy or wailing ghost.
  • bloodcurdling – a chilling, scary sound. Usually used to describe loud screams
  • boo – a short sound made to scare people when playing tricks on them.
  • brew a spell– put together a set of words to do magic.
  • broom/broomstick – a long brush on which witches usually fly.
  • Candy (Amr. Eng) – sweet (Br.Eng)
  • cauldron – big cooking pot used by witches when brewing spells.
  • cemetery (br. Eng) – the place where dead people are buried.
  • coffin – a long box in which dead people are placed
  • corpse – a dead body
  • costume – a set of clothes worn to make you look like someone or something else.
  • creepy – scary
  • deceased – no longer living, dead.
  • ghostly – ghost like
  • ghoul – an evil spirit that robs graves and eats dead bodies.
  • ghoulish – resembling a ghoul
  • goblin – a small ugly, naughty creature.
  • gory – showing a lot of blood.
  • graveyard (Amr. Eng.) – place where the dead are buried.
  • haunted house – a house that supposedly contains a ghost or spirits.
  • Jack-o’-Lantern – a cut out pumpkin with a candle inside.
  • mischievous – causing or tending to cause annoyance or minor harm or damage.
  • monster – an imaginary, fearful creature.
  • pagan – a person who worships many gods or goddesses or the earth or nature
  • phantom – a ghostly figure
  • prank – a trick or practical joke
  • spell – a magic rite cast by witches.
  • spirit – the soul of a person.
  • spirits – the ghosts of dead people
  • Superstition – a belief that certain events or things will bring good or bad luck.
  • sweets (Br. Eng. ) – candy (Amr. Eng.)
  • tombstone – a large upright stone placed at the head of a grave.
  • treat – an unexpected reward designed to please someone
  • trick – a practical joke
  • Trick or treat” – the phrase used by children at Halloween in order to collect sweets.
  • vampire – a creature that sleeps in a coffin by day and comes out at night to drink blood from people.
  • wand – a stick used to cast spells
  • ward away – to keep someone or something away or prevent something from happening or harming you
  • witch – a woman believed to have magical powers.