Halloween. The name comes from an early Christian festival on Nov. 1 - All Hallowmas or All Saints' Day - and thus, the night before is Hallow's Eve or Hallow E'en, as it's called in Ireland.
In old English, the word "Hallow" meant "sanctify." It's the same word used in the familiar Lord's Prayer: "Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name."
Like some other holidays, this one contains a mix of Christian and pagan rituals, marking the end of the harvest season and the initiation of winter. But unlike other holidays, this one draws the ire of many evangelical Christians because of the overwhelming emphasis on costumes of witches, ghouls, ghosts, bloody and violent masks and other fierce characters. In "Star Wars" language, it would be all about the "dark side of the force."
There is conflicting evidence about how the holiday and traditions such as bobbing for apples got started, and even erroneous literature spread by some Christian groups. In a Dec. 29, 2006, online article by Dennis Rupert, pastor of New Life Community Church of Stafford, Va., he states, "Contrary to Christian criticism from many sources, Halloween did not originate as a satanic festival. ... Halloween's association with satanic worship is a modern phenomenon."
He said pranks on Halloween date to the late 1800s and that by the 1920s, those pranks had turned into destruction of property and cruelty to animals and people, so neighborhood committees and organizations such as the Boy Scouts "mobilized to organize safe and fun alternatives to vandalism." This resulted in the "trick or treat" greeting and costumed children who became more common in the late 1930s.
And it's mostly an American tradition - you won't find nearly as much turnout for Halloween in England as you will for the bonfires of Guy Fawkes Day, and in that country, costumes are often what you put together from items in your closet.
Many churches now offer their own Halloween alternatives, often called harvest or fall festivals. Cake walks, apple bobbing, bounce houses and "friendly" costumes of animals, princesses and superheroes replace scary haunted houses and the danger of tainted treats from strangers' homes.