Learn English with Films: History of Halloween

“I would like, if I may, to take you on a strange journey.”

The Criminologist, The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

Halloween is an ancient, originally Celtic celebration, which goes back some 3000 years. How did a pagan harvest festival evolve into a globally observed holiday? “The Haunted History of Halloween” by History Channel makes it very clear. We offer you a word list including useful vocabulary from the documentary, which we recommend to study before watching the program. 10 expressions are given below. So, let’s watch and learn…

DOCUMENTARY: The Haunted History of Halloween

Useful vocabulary:

  • controversy /ˈkɒntrəvɜːsi/ – a lot of disagreement and argument about something: 1) This Halloween costume sparks controversy. 2) Controversy surrounds his new movie.
  • to live off sb./sth. – to use someone or something to provide the money or food that you need to live: 1) Farmers truly live off the land. 2) All his life he had lived off his father.
  • at the mercy of sb./sth. – in a situation that is controlled by someone or something with the power to harm you: 1) Workers are entirely at the mercy of dishonest employers. 2) We are at the mercy of the elements. (The elements are the weather, especially bad weather: On top of the mountain we were at the mercy of the elements.)
  • to take root – (of an idea, method, belief, activity, etc.) to become established among a group of people: 1) Good practices in this area would take root and inspire us all. 2) I hope the new idea will take root. (If a plant takes root, it starts to grow where you have planted it: A clover needs a dark space to take root.)
  • to pave the way for sth. – to make a later event or development possible by producing the right conditions: 1) We can pave the way for peace and economic prosperity for the entire region. 2) Hundreds of years ago in Ireland, Celtic tradition paved the way for what we now call Halloween.
  • head-on – directly: 1) We met the challenge head-on (= in a determined way). 2) The police are trying to tackle car crime head-on.
  • to loosen one’s hold/grip on sth./sb. – to reduce the control or power of something or someone: 1) It’s very difficult to loosen the grip of tradition. 2) Sanctions have failed to loosen his grip on power.
  • out of favor – no longer liked, popular, or fashionable: 1) I’m out favor with the boss. 2) These stocks have steadily fallen out of favor with investors. If something is in someone’s favor, it gives them an advantage over someone else: The new rules should actually work in your favor.
  • to wage war on sb./sth. – to be involved in a war against someone, or a fight against something: 1) A number of American public schools have decided to wage war on Halloween, banning costumes or curtailing celebrations. (To curtail something is to reduce or limit something, especially something good: You can’t curtail freedom of expression!) 2) In the current financial climate we shouldn’t wage war on each other.
  • to blaze a trail – to be the first to do something new and important: 1) The country was trying to blaze a trail in resolving the issue. 2) We can make a difference and blaze a new trail.

Test: choose the right word to complete the sentences (the answer key is at the bottom of the page):

  1. The government has ________ (lost/loosened/lifted) its hold on the media.
  2. After the boat’s motor failed, they were at the ________ (mercy/pity/compassion) of the weather.
  3. The scene stirred up ________ (trail/favor/controversy).
  4. When you ________ (rage/wage/cage) war on the world, the world fights back.
  5. They have blazed a ________ (trail/way/line) for others to follow.
  6. Halloween ________ (made/paved/opened) the way for a lot of mainstream horror filmmakers.
  7. This costume is out of ________ (flavor/favor/love) this year.
  8. We have to deal with it ________ (eye/head/hand) -on.
  9. The Celts lived ________ (of/off/out of) the land and needed a celebration to worship the gods.
  10. The tradition of carving pumpkins took ________ (origin/root/seed).
pexels-photo-619424

Original Jack-o-Lanterns were made of turnips, but the American tradition of using pumpkins took root.

Answer key: 1. loosened 2. mercy 3. controversy 4. wage 5. trail 6. paved 7. favor 8. head 9. off 10. root

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