Observance of Halloween faded in the South of England from the 17th century onwards, being replaced by the commemoration of the Gunpowder Plot on November 5. However it remained popular in Scotland, Ireland and the North of England. It is only in the last decade that it again became popular in the South of England, but as an entirely Americanized version.
The custom survives most accurately in Ireland, where the last Monday of October is a public holiday.
The custom of trick-or-treating is thought to have evolved from the European custom called souling, similar to the wassailing customs associated with Yule. On November 2, All Souls' Day, beggars would walk from village to village begging for "soul cakes" - square pieces of bread with currants. Christians would promise to say prayers on behalf of dead relatives helping the soul's passage to heaven. The distribution of soul cakes was encouraged by the church as a way to replace the ancient practice of leaving food and wine for roaming spirits at the Samhain.
In Celtic parts of western Brittany, Samhain is still heralded by the baking of kornigou. Kornigou are cakes baked in the shape of antlers to commemorate the god of winter shedding his "cuckold" horns as he returns to his kingdom in the Otherworld.
"Punkie Night" is observed on the last Thursday in October in the village of Hinton St. George in the county of Somerset in England. On this night, children carry lanterns made from hollowed-out mangel-wurzels (a kind of beet; in modern days, pumpkins are used) with faces carved into them. They bring these around the village, collecting money and singing the punkie song. Punkie is derived from pumpkin or punk, meaning tinder.
Though the custom is only attested over the last century, and the mangel-wurzel itself was introduced into English agriculture in the late 18th century, "Punkie Night" appears to be much older even than the fable that now accounts for it. The story goes that the wives of Hinton St. George went looking for their wayward husbands at the fair held nearby at Chiselborough, the last Thursday in October, but first hollowed out mangel wurzels in order to make lanterns to light their way. The drunken husbands saw the eerie lights, thought they were "goolies" (the restless spirits of children who had died before they were baptized), and fled in terror. Children carry the punkies now. The event has spread since about 1960 to the neighboring village of Chiselborough.
Sources: on-line report from the Western Gazette and a National Geographic radio segment. Chiselborough Fair is memorialized by Fair Place in the village. The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868) reported that there was "a fair for horses and cattle on the last Thursday in October."
The night before Halloween, known in some areas as "Mischief Night", "Mizzie Night", "Gate Night", "Cabbage Night", "Goosie Night (Goosy,Goosey)" or "Devil's Night," is often associated with pranks or destructive activities performed by adolescents. Some of the acts range from minor vandalism to theft, or even arson. Many youths involved in mischief night would be considered too old for traditional trick-or-treating. The most common wrong-doing is toilet papering or "T.P.ing", in which people's houses, lawns, and trees are covered in toilet paper streamers.
Perhaps the most elaborate example of a Mischief Night prank was Orson Welles' radio dramatization of The War of the Worlds, originally aired on October 30, 1938. Welles' broadcast, which purported to be a live newscast detailing the invasion of the United States by Martians, was accepted as real by many listeners and created a public panic in some areas of the country.
A dialect survey begun in 1999 by Harvard University indicates that there are a number of terms for this particular day of the year, but that the vast majority (70.38%) have no special word for it.
Courtesy of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia