It’s October, and that can only mean one celebration… Happy Halloween! Love it or hate it, Halloween is around the corner and will be celebrated all over the English-speaking world (and beyond!) on the 31st of October. We at Express English College will certainly be marking the occasion! Arguably a far bigger deal for our American friends across the Atlantic than for Brits, Halloween has, however, no doubt gained huge traction in the UK over the last couple of decades. No matter if you think it’s just one for the kids or if you’re a big kid yourself and love to get involved, Halloween has a dark and interesting history. We’ve been exploring it in our General English classes … and there’s even an IELTS reading exercise about it!

It is Halloween

The origins of Halloween herald back to nearly 2,000 years ago, originating on the British Isles. It can be traced to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, a celebration which denoted the end of summer and the season’s bountiful crop harvests, whilst marking the incoming long, cold winter. The Celts believed that the ghosts of their loved ones (and possibly a few evil spirits in the mix too!) would make the crossing through the boundary between the living and the dead on the 31st October (Johnson, n.d.). Literally meaning ‘summer’s end,’ Samhain was celebrated by building bonfires to ward off evil spirits and by dressing up in animal skins as costumes (Countryfile Magazine, n.d.).

Our students, whilst learning English at Express English College found out that aspects and symbols synonymous with Halloween were entwined with the celebration over time. The Romans added their twist of the apple bobbing tradition during their long occupation of the British Isles via their goddess Pomona, whose symbol was an apple (Johnson, n.d.). Even supposedly straight-laced Queen Victoria was known to enjoy some spooky festivities in her time (Matthew, 2015)!

Today Halloween is a sugar fest for kids as they parade around streets playing Trick or Treat in return for sweets, as well as a night of fancy-dress revelry for adults. In America Halloween is taken very seriously, often with entire houses draped in cobwebs and flickering, carved pumpkins at every turn. Although rather less popular here in the UK Halloween is still adored by many, and you will see establishments and organizations like Express English College promoting themed events for several days before and after the 31st.

Halloween has possibly more symbols, characters, and motifs than any other celebration in the calendar. This makes it great from an ESL perspective, as there is so much intriguing vocab to learn. We know you know what a vampire, ghost and witch are, but what about a ghoul, an apparition and a banshee? Ever heard a bloodcurdling scream, or seen something grisly and gruesome? Halloween is a great time to pick up some unusual new vocab that you may not hear elsewhere. We will certainly be getting into the swing of things at Express English College with some suitably spooky themed lessons.

Manchester, as always, has a jam-packed host of Halloween-themed activities and events around the city. For a unique, Manchester ‘mad-fer-it’ twist on the English classic Frankenstein, why not go and meet Dr Mancenstein in St Ann’s Square on the 30th and 31st? DJ Ghostman

will be playing Halloween hits on Market Street for Halloween and the opportunity to take part in some spooky ice-skating will jump out at you in Cathedral Gardens. I’m sure our current students, studying abroad for the first time in their lives, will be going!

Happy Halloween! Enjoy practising your English with this traditionally old school, scary British celebration.

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Countryfile Magazine. (2020) History and traditions of Hallowee in the UK and pumpkin recipes ideas. Available at: https://www.countryfile.com/how-to/food-recipes/history-of-the-halloween-pumpkin-plus-recipes-ideas/. [Accessed 7 October 2021]

Johnson, B. (n.d.) Hallowee. Available at: https://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/Halloween/. [Accessed 7 October 2021]

Matthews, M. (2015) A Victorian Hallowee Party. Available at: https://www.mimimatthews.com/2015/10/18/a-victorian-halloween-party/. [Accessed 7 October 2021]

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