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An old Halloween Poscard

Have you ever wondered how Halloween became to be such a popular celebration? How it all began? Halloween has a long history, but the traditions have evolved through the centuries. Two thousand years ago it was only celebrated in small parts of the world among the Celts. Today it is celebrated in many countries all over the world.

What do you know about Halloween? What do you want to learn about Halloween? What do you expect to learn about Halloween on this wikipage?

Watch the short video from National Geographic on YouTube on Halloween.Halloween is an annual holiday, which means it is celebrated once a year, on October the 31st. The tradition of Halloween dates back 2000 years to the the Celts.
Read about the origins of Halloween on the History Webpage.


Here is a list of words that will appear in the texts. Read through the list and if you do not know them, become familiar with their meaning.

English Íslenska
traditions hefðir
incorporate samþætta
commemorate minnast
Protestant hefðir
immigrants innflytjendur
famine hungur
appease friða, sefa

Questions on History

Celts in III century BC

Work together with a partner and discuss the following questions.

  1. Who were the Celts?
  2. Where did they live?
  3. What is All Saints Day? Who made that an official day and for what reason?
  4. How did the word Halloween come to exist in the English language?
  5. Who brought the tradition to America?
  6. How did the tradition change in America?
  7. How do the Americans celebrate Halloween?
  8. What superstitions are associated with Halloween?
  9. How did the black cat become associated with bad luck?
  10. What are some of the forgotten rituals or superstitions associated with Halloween? What did they do in the 18th century?
  11. How are the traditions of Halloween today similar or different to the Celtic festival of Samhain 2000 years ago?
  12. What type of food is associated with Halloween today?

The History - Multiple Choice Quiz


1 Why did the Celts light bonfires and wear costumes?

to ward off Satan
to celebrate Jesus
to scare each other
to ward off ghosts

2 Who were the druids?

the dead that returned to earth

3 Pope Gregory III designated the first of November as All Saints Day in...

the 8th century
the 4th century
the 12th century
the 18th century

4 The evening before was known as ....

All Hallo Ween
All Hail the Saint
All Hallows Eve
Hallow Saints

5 The Celtics celebrated ______________ on the 31st of October

The King's birthday
The coming of winter
New Years Eve

6 When did the Romans conquer the Celts?

in 44 B.C.
in 43 A.D.
in 800 B.C.
in the middle ages

7 How did the traditions of Halloween change in the 18th century?

People started trick-or-treating.
People started believing that black cats were evil.
Halloween became all about finding a future husband.
Halloween became family friendly and less scary.

8 What was another name for All Saints day in the middle ages?

All of the above

The Jack-O-Lantern


Today all over the world the Jack-o-Lantern is carved out of pumpkin, but this was not always so.

Traditional Cornish Jack-o'-Lantern made from a turnip

The first Jack-o-Lanterns were carved out of turnips. This was because pumpkins did not grow in Ireland. When the Irish moved to America, they brought with them the traditions of Halloween and the traditions of carving out a Jack-o-Lantern on Halloween. Pumpkins grew in America and proved to be a better vegetable for carving a lantern.

There is an old Irish folktale behind the Jack-o-Lantern that explains why it became part of Halloween tradition. Based on this tale, the ghost of Jack roams the earth on the night of the 31st of October carrying his Lantern with the Devil's coal to light his way. The Irish named his ghost the Jack of the Lantern, which later became Jack-o-Lantern.

Stingy Jack - a Celtic folktale


As the story goes, several centuries ago amongst many of the towns and villages in Ireland, there lived a drunkard known as "Stingy Jack". Jack was notorious throughout the land as a deceiver, manipulator and an outcast of society. One fateful night, Satan overheard the tale of Jack's evil deeds and silver tongue. Unconvinced (and envious) of the rumours, the devil went to find out for himself whether or not Jack lived up to his despicable reputation.

Typical of Jack, he was drunk and wandering through the countryside at night on a cobblestone path when he came upon Satan.

Cobblestone path

Jack realized somberly this was his end; Satan had finally come to collect his malevolent soul. So Jack made a last request: he asked Satan to let him drink ale before he departed to hell. Finding no reason not to deny him his request, Satan took Jack to the local pub and supplied him with many alcoholic beverages. Upon quenching his thirst, Jack asked Satan to pay the tab on the ale, much to Satan's surprise. Jack convinced Satan to change into a silver coin with which to pay the bartender.Satan changed himself into a coin and Jack put him in his pocket. Cunning as a fox, Jack stuck the coin in his pocket that also contained a crucifix. The crucifix's presence kept Satan from escaping his form. This forced Satan to agree to Jack's demand: in exchange for Satan's freedom, he had to spare Jack's soul for ten years.

Exactly ten years later, from the day that Jack originally struck his deal, he naturally found himself once again in Satan's presence. Jack ran into Satan in the same setting as before and he, seemingly, accepted it was his time to go to hell for good. As Satan prepared to take him to hell, Jack asked if he could have one apple to feed his starving belly. Foolishly Satan once again agreed to this request. As Satan climbed up the branches of a nearby apple tree, Jack surrounded its base with crucifixes. Satan, frustrated at the fact that he had been entrapped again, demanded his release. As Jack did before, he made a demand: that his soul never be taken by Satan into Hell. Satan agreed and was set free.

A Crucifix

Eventually the drinking took its toll on Jack and he died. As Jack's soul prepared to enter Heaven through the gates of St. Peter, he was stopped. And Jack was told by God that because of his sinful lifestyle of deceitfulness and drinking, he was not allowed into Heaven. Jack then went down to the Gates of Hell and begged for admission into underworld. Satan, fulfilling his obligation to Jack, could not take his soul. To warn others, he gave Jack a burning piece of coal. From that day on until eternity's end, Jack is doomed to roam the world between the planes of good and evil, with only that burning piece of coal inside a hollowed turnip to light his way.

English Icelandic
notorious alræmdur
request beiðni
seemingly svo virtist sem
admission inngang
deceitfulness sviksemi
beverages drykki

Ever since then, the Jack-o-Lantern represents Jack's soul roaming the earth on the 31st of October when "the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred".

Stingy Jack - Multiple Choice Questions


1 Why was Jack so notorious?

he was always stealing the sheep
he was always drinking on Sundays
he was mean to little children
he was and evil deceitful drunk and an outcast

2 If someone has a silver tongue he ...

is a smooth talker and very convincing
talks about money all the time
slurs his words

3 Why was the devil eager to see him?

He wanted to make him his right hand man
He wanted him to help him trick the villagers
He thought Jack was his long lost brother
He couldn't believe that anyone could be so wicked

4 What did the devil first want from Jack?

to buy him a beer
to take him to the cemetery
to take him to hell
to sit and chat

5 What did Jack convince the devil to do?

to pay his drinks
to change into a coin
to give him a barrel of beer
to never send him to hell

6 What was the devil's promise for his release?

To come back for him in fifteen years
To come back for him in a couple of years
To come back for him in ten years time
To never send him to hell

Trick or Treating


Trick-or-treating is a Halloween ritual custom for children and adults in many countries. Children in costumes travel from house to house, asking for treats with the phrase "Trick or treat". The "treat" is usually some form of candy, although in some cultures money is used instead. The "trick" refers to a threat, usually idle, to perform mischief or tricks on the homeowners or their property if no treat is given. Trick-or-treating usually occurs on the evening of October 31. Some homeowners signal that they are willing to hand out treats by putting up Halloween decorations outside their doors; others simply leave treats available on their porches for the children to take freely. Houses may also leave their porch light on as a universal indicator that they have candy.

In Britain and Ireland, the tradition of going house to house collecting food at Halloween goes back at least as far as the 16th century, as had the tradition of people wearing costumes at Halloween. In 19th century Britain and Ireland there are many accounts of people going house to house in costume at Halloween, reciting verses in exchange for food, and sometimes warning of misfortune if they were not welcomed.

The term "trick-or-treating" wasn't firmly established until in 1952 when Disney and Peanuts created comic strips of trick-or-treating.] "The tradition didn’t make its way to North America until the 1920s and 30s, first taking root in the West." The Donald Duck comic helped boost the tradition of trick-or-treating. Watch the 1952 cartoon on YouTube.

Read about the history of Trick or Treating.

English Íslenska
cavity conscious meðvitaður um tannskemmdir
placate friða
depict draga upp mynd
recite a poem fara með ljóð
masquerades klæðast grímubúninga
guise /guising fara í dulargervi
disguise dulargervi
rowdy ófriðaseggir
sporadic sem gerist stöku sinnum
mischief hrekkir
curtailed draga úr, minnka
capitalized græða á
lucrative arðbær, gróða-

During the World War, sugar was rationed and so it wasn't until after the war that candy became the main treat. The tradition helped create a lucrative business in the candy industry. Over the holidays, Americans buy over 600 million pounds of candy.

Trick-or-Treat - Multiple Choice Questions


Click on the link if you haven't read the history website about the History of Trick-or-Treating. You will find the answers the the following questions there.

1 During the festival of Samhain, the villagers would wear costumes made ...

of straw
of animal skins
of cotton
of straws and seaweed

2 The antecedent of Trick-or-Treating in the middle ages was called ...


3 Which of the following was NOT done during guising?

sing a song
tell a joke
recite a poem
steal food

4 When did the church designate November the second as All Souls day?

800 A.D.
920 A.D.
1000 A.D.
1060 A.D.

5 What did people have to do to receive Soul Cakes?

sing a song
pray for the souls of the dead relatives
recite a poem
make a promise not to play tricks

6 Who helped popularize Halloween in America?

the British
The Scottish
The Irish
The Germans



The History of Trick-or-Treating

The History of Halloween

The History of the Jack-o'Lantern

A blog on the history of Halloween food.

A YouTube Video National Geographic - Halloween History

A YouTube Video Where did the Celts come from?

A YouTube AudioStory of The Tale of Stingy Jack

Website with some interesting facts about candy.