Halloween, its traditions and some history


Infographic on Halloween by the numbers.

Brittney Christ

Halloween is a monstrous holiday here in America.

Halloween decorations fill every store to the brim with orange and black. Big retailers like Walmart devote entire aisles to candy and costumes. Parents fight over the last Superman costume for their little one, and the avid candy enthusiast struggles to find a candy bar that isn’t bundled in a Halloween bag. But, Halloween was not always this way.

Halloween comes from All Hallows’ Eve, and usually consists of trick-or-treating, lavish costume parties, “haunted houses” and carving pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns. These traditions originally come from the Irish and Scottish immigrants who brought them over in the nineteenth century, although, they were very different in pre-modern times.

The origin of Halloween is believed by some scholars to come from the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain (pronounced “sah-win”). The festival is a celebration of the end of the harvest season in Gaelic culture. Other scholars believe Halloween begins the three-day observance of Christian Allhallowtide, which is three days dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints, martyrs and all faithful Christian believers. All Hallows’ Eve is perhaps a Christianized holiday that is influenced by the Celtic harvest festival, or it could possibly have pagan roots. The issue is that the origin of Halloween is completely undecided in the scholarly world.

However, most scholars would agree that on Oct. 31, the boundary between the land of the living and the land of the dead was believed to overlap, thus allowing the deceased to come back to life and wreak havoc. Masks and costumes were worn to appease or scare away evil spirits or demonic presences.

Trick-or-treating, a popular modern Halloween custom, came about from the practice of dressing up in costumes and begging door to door for treats on holidays during the Middle Ages. Trick-or-treating was called “souling,” a practice in which the poor would go door to door on Hallowmas, or All Saints Day (Nov. 1). They would receive food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day (Nov. 2). This practice originated in Ireland and Britain and turned into “guising,” where children would get “treats” for singing or rhyming.

Nonetheless, there is no evidence that “souling” was ever practiced here in the U.S. In addition, there is little to no documentation of modern Halloween customs in Ireland, the UK, or America before the year 1900.

“By the 1920s and 1930s, Halloween had become a secular but community-centered holiday with parades and town-wide parties as the featured entertainment,” according to the History Channel.

Even though Halloween has roots hundreds of years earlier than present day trick-or-treating, it was virtually unknown in America until generations later.

Halloween is not all about trick-or-treating, costume contests, or scary movie marathons. We have Americanized Halloween into a candy monopoly, where costumes and bags of candy are expected to be gobbled up by consumers.

“Halloween is now the spring board for the sale of costumes, horror films, [and] macabre party themes,” said John Cypher, a local real estate agent.

“Halloween is yet another American holiday that has morphed into another opportunity for commercial gain,” Cypher continued. However, he enjoys young trick-or-treaters, because he can delight in “the innocence of childhood” one day of the year.

In reality, Halloween is really just signifying the end of a harvest season, a potential religious holiday and the old belief that it is the one day the “dead can roam the earth.” But the U.S. has monopolized on the aspect of spending loads of hard-earned cash on short-lived costumes and an abundance of candy.

Halloween has turned into a “spooky holiday” where we celebrate greed. “Americans purchase nearly 600 million pounds of candy a year for Halloween,” according to Nielsen Research, one of the largest and most prestigious media research companies in the world. In addition, the average American usually spends $44 on candy alone.

Not to mention, Nielsen Research also stated the average sales for Halloween are as follows: $2.12 billion for costumes; $1.9 billion for Halloween candy; $1.65 billion on decorations; $350 million on greeting cards.

Halloween is not just a holiday full of fun costumes and more candy than dentists could ever complain about; the holiday is rich in culture from many different countries and time periods. With roots in religious sectors and harvest festivals, Halloween is essentially an Autumn melting pot that is full of timeless traditions and the occasional Pumpkin Spice Latte