Reading Comprehension: Halloween Unmasked

This is a B2 level reading comprehension article and interactive activity about Halloween. If you are interested in more Halloween or horror related activities, check out this horror book review and this advanced horror text modelling inverted sentences.

Read the following text about Halloween and then answer the questions below.

Halloween

Halloween is a popular festival that is celebrated in many parts of the world. The supernatural, spooky and horror themes of the holiday are popular in many different countries. Originating from ancient Celtic rituals, this haunting celebration has evolved into many different regional forms. From pumpkin-carving to trick-or-treating, the appeal of Halloween transcends borders, uniting cultures in a shared interest in the mysterious and supernatural.

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The roots of Halloween go back to the Celtic celebration of Samhain. Celebrated around November 1st, Samhain marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. The Celts believed that during this time, the boundary between the living and the dead blurred, allowing spirits to pass freely between our world and theirs. To ward off malevolent entities, they lit bonfires and wore costumes to confuse the spirits, a practice that is continued in today’s Halloween traditions.

As Christianity spread, adopted many existing pagan festivals. In the 8th century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1st as All Saints’ Day, bringing some of the customs of Samhain in to the new Christian holiday. The night before, known as All Hallows’ Eve (an abbreviation of evening ), gradually transformed into Hallowe’en, which is now more commonly known as Halloween. o Hallowe’en, which is now more commonly known as Halloween. This combination of the Christian event and the existing pagan celebration created a new holiday.

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The American version of Halloween is synonymous with carved pumpkins, haunted houses, and elaborate costumes. The adoption of Halloween by Irish immigrants in the 19th century transformed the festival, adding new dimensions to the celebration.

One iconic aspect of American Halloween is trick-or-treating. Children, dressed as horror or other popular culture characters, go door-to-door, collecting sweets and chocolates. The children offer neighbours the choice between trick or treat. People are usually happy to give the visitors a treat, but if they are unable or unwilling to provide a treat, the children will play some kind of trick or prank on them. These tricks are usually very mild and unthreatening, such as throwing rolls of toilet paper into the branches of trees. This practice emerged in the mid-20th century and has become a strong tradition, uniting neighbourhoods in a communal spirit of giving and receiving.

Pumpkin carving, another American hallmark, traces its roots to an Irish legend about “Stingy Jack.” Originally carved from turnips, the practice evolved in the United States with the abundant availability of pumpkins. Families gather for pumpkin-picking excursions, transforming these colourful gourds into eerie or whimsical jack-o’-lanterns. Carved pumpkins are not the only form of decoration that Americans enjoy at Halloween. Many people decorate their houses in horror themes, with cobwebs, skeletons and even lights and sound effects to provide a terrifying haunted house experience.

Many adults enjoy the opportunity for themed and costumed parties, although one distinction between the UK and the USA is that while in the UK costumes are consistently horror themed, In the USA there is a wider range of costumes, not all horror related.

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In Mexico, Halloween blends seamlessly with el Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Celebrated from October 31st to November 2nd, this vibrant festival honours deceased loved ones. Families create ofrendas (altars) adorned with marigolds, candles, and sugar skulls. Parades, music, and traditional foods make it a joyous occasion, emphasising a celebration of life and remembrance of the departed.

In Japan, a similar spirit of remembering ancestors prevails during the Obon Festival, typically held in mid-August. While not directly related to Halloween, Obon shares the theme of honouring the deceased. Families visit graves, light lanterns, and participate in traditional dances. The festival symbolises the cyclical nature of life and death, creating an interesting parallel with Halloween.

Back in Ireland, the birthplace of Halloween, Samhain has experienced a resurgence in recent years. Communities celebrate with bonfires, traditional music, and storytelling. Efforts to reconnect with ancient customs illustrate the enduring power of cultural heritage, bringing the celebration full circle and back to its Celtic origins.

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Halloween’s allure lies not only in costumes and candies but also in spine-chilling tales. Across cultures, ghost stories often play a part in this spooky season. Whether it’s the Japanese yĆ«rei or Irish banshees, the fascination with the supernatural unites people in a shared love for the eerie and mysterious.

In parts of the United Kingdom and the United States, the night before Halloween is celebrated as Mischief Night. While its origins are unclear, the tradition involves mild pranks and mischief. In the United States, particularly in the Midwest and Northeast, Mischief Night is an opportunity for lighthearted antics, from soaping windows to leaving small surprises on neighbours’ doorsteps.

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In the 21st century, Halloween has become a major commercial event. Costume parties, haunted attractions, and elaborate decorations contribute to a booming industry. However, one distinction between the UK and the USA is that while in the UK costumes are consistently horror themed, In the USA there is a wider range of costumes, not all horror related. Trends in costumes often reflect societal interests, with pop culture figures, superheroes, and nostalgic characters taking the spotlight.

The digital age has transformed how we celebrate Halloween. Social media platforms showcase elaborate decorations and costumes, fostering a global exchange of ideas. Virtual events, augmented reality experiences, and online communities dedicated to Halloween enthusiasts have become integral parts of the modern celebration.

Embracing Halloween Traditions

Halloween, with its origins in ancient Celtic traditions, has evolved into a global phenomenon. From the vibrant festivities of Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos to Japan’s reflective Obon Festival, each culture adds its unique flavour to the celebration. Ghost stories, mischief nights, and contemporary trends further enrich the global celebration of Halloween.

As we embrace the Autumn each year, we partake in a timeless tradition that transcends borders, connecting us to our shared human fascination with the supernatural. Whether we are carving pumpkins, putting on costumes, or sharing ghost stories, Halloween continues to unite us in the spirit of mystery, celebration, and the enduring connection between the living and the departed.

Now answer the questions below.

More great horror related resources from Onlearn English

If you want to know more about Halloween, check out the Wikipedia article.

Halloween Reading Comprehension Exercise