Window on UK Culture

Halloween is on October 31st


Ghosts and Goblins, Jack O’Lanterns, witches and warlocks. Its nearly Halloween again so time to get out those fancy dress costumes and go trick or treating. But do you know why we have Halloween?

The origins of Halloween date back over 2000 years to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in).

This festival, which means the end of summer, celebrated the end of harvest and the beginning of the Celtic New Year on November 1st.

Return of the Dead


As the nights became colder and darker, people's thoughts often turned to death.

The Celts believed that on the night before the New Year the boundary between this world and the world of the dead dissolved and the dead returned to earth causing trouble and damaging crops.

It wasn't all bad though, since the Celts thought that the presence of these spirits helped their priests to make predictions about the future. These forecasts and warnings about the future were an important source of solace during the long, dark winter.

Fires & Fancy Dress


To celebrate Samhain the Druids built huge sacred bonfires. People came together to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic gods.

During the celebration the Celts wore costumes - usually animal heads and skins. (probably the origin of fancy dress costumes at Halloween) They would also try and tell each other's fortunes.

After the festival they re-lit the fires in their homes from the sacred bonfire to help protect them, as well as keep them warm during the winter months.

Enter the Romans


By 43 AD the Roman Empire had conquered most of the Celtic regions.

In the following 400 years two Roman festivals became incorporated with Samhain. The first was Feralia - a day in late October when the Romans commemorated the passing of the dead, and the second was a day to honour Pomona the Roman goddess of fruit and trees.
An apple is the symbol of Pomona, so perhaps this is the origin of the tradition of bobbing for apples: whoever bit into an apple first would be married first the next year.

Christianity and Halloween

By the 800s Christianity had spread into Celtic lands and the celebration became known as the Eve of All Hallows (All Saints) and eventually Halloween. In the Old English language hallow means to bless, consecrate or sanctify.



These originate from Irish folklore, the story goes that a notorious drunk and trickster named Jack tricked the Devil into climbing a tree. Once the devil was up the tree Jack carved out a cross on the tree trunk to stop the Devil coming down.

Eventually he made a pact with the devil which was that if he never tempted him again he would let the Devil back down the tree.

Because he made a deal with the Devil he was banned from heaven and the Devil wasn’t too happy about being tricked so he was banned from Hell as well and condemned to walk in purgatory with nothing but a glowing ember in a hollowed out turnip to light his way.

When Irish immigrants arrived in America they found pumpkins in abundance and what’s more they looked much better hollowed out than an old turnip.

Pumpkin Soup


Once you have made your Jack-O-Lantern by 
hollowing out a pumpkin and carving out the face
you will be left with all the insides.
So why not make a delicious Halloween Pumpkin Soup?



  • The flesh of one recently hollowed out Halloween pumpkin
  • 2 potatoes, diced
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 5 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 5cm fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 handfuls of coriander leaves
  • 0.5 litres coconut milk
  • 500g of fresh cream
  • 1/2 chilli, seeded and chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Grated cheese to garnish

Heat some oil in a pan and add the onions and fry on a low heat.

Add the garlic, ginger and chilli pepper and fry for a further 2 or 3 minutes.

Add the pumpkin and potatoes. Cook on a medium heat until the potatoes start to crisp at the edges.

Add the coconut milk, reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Now add half the fresh coriander and simmer for a further 5 minutes.

Check to see that the potatoes and pumpkin are cooked.

Once cooked, add the remainder of the coriander.

Transfer the soup into a blender and whizz it up. You may have to do this in stages. If you don't have a food processor, mash it up with a potato masher.

Once the soup has been liquidized, stir in the fresh cream.

Heat gently.

Serve with warm crusty bread to the side and grated cheese on top.