Halloween hasn’t always been the glamorous ‘celebration of the dead’ as portrayed by popular media. The Halloween as we see it, is a culturally appropriate, secular celebration, just there to mark the fading memory of a past we neither recognize nor understand completely. Statistics tell us that there is a lot of consumerism involved around Halloween celebrations. A whopping $10.14 billion were spent on Halloween candy, decorations and costumes in the year 2021. This was about two billion dollars more than the spending in previous restrictive years owing to the Corona pandemic.
How did America manage to spend so much on a celebration which is not even a national holiday or a recognized festival!? The allure of Halloween probably has to do with the forbidden fruit effect. Non conformist behavior and the primitive urge to do what is not allowed find their ultimate expression on this day when most of us can be free to look hideous and act evil and yet are happy about it.
Understanding the Chronology of Halloween
The Pagan religion celebrated a good harvest at the end of summer with bonfires and wore costumes to ward off evil spirits. This Celtic festival was called Samhain (pronounced SAH-win) and was celebrated around the same time of the year as Halloween today. Pope Gregory the Third declared November 1 as All Saints Day or All Hallows Day somewhere around the middle of the eighth century. The evening before All Saints Day came to be called as All Hallows Eve and later on as Halloween.
Seeing Ghosts and Dressing Up as One
The Celtic people believed that the changing seasons had an effect of thinning the veil between worlds and that the dead could walk the earth at this time and ask the farmers for their share in a bountiful harvest. So, they started disguising themselves as spirits and ghouls in a hope to be left alone by the real ones. This tradition was later assimilated in the festivities of Halloween. Today all Halloween parties in the United States primarily focus on what one wears to appear most scary. The Halloween makeup game has also been upped and there is no limit to ones imagination when it comes to looking like a real zombie or a deadly spirit.
These Halloween stories never get boring.
So, back in the Day there was supposedly an Irish guy named Stingy Jack who had the amazing capability of capturing the Devil himself. Each time the devil bribed Stingy Jack with a promise of never letting him go to hell. When Jack died and went to Heaven he realized that the Pearly Gates did not welcome him, so he was forced to wander the earth as a ghost for eternity. The Devil then gave him a carved out turnip containing a lump of burning coal to light his way. The early settlers brought this tradition to America where it eventually took the form of carving pumpkins for Halloween simply because it was pumpkin season by the end of October.
The Black and Orange Color Theme
There is some ancient wisdom at play here. Since Halloween is celebrated at the cusp of receding summers and oncoming winters, the Orange symbolizes the colors of fall and Black is for the cold dark winters. Black also symbolizes the night time when Halloween is actually celebrated and Orange is for the warm, crackling fire that warms up the night. Over the years these symbolic colors became a part of the Halloween tradition and have become an integral part of all Halloween decorations and costumes.
Contentions about Halloween
- The Puritans were not fans of Halloween festivities as they believed that it had its origin in Paganism. There is no mention of Halloween in the Bible itself. The Catholic Church though was quick to recognize the fact that local customs had to be assimilated into Christian practice in order to appease the newly reformed Christians who were newly settled in America. These were mostly the Irish settlers who had been celebrating Samhain and those practices easily merged with All Hallows Eve and All Hallows Day.
- The Wiccans declare that they have nothing to do with the charades happening on Halloween as it mocks their practices and that they would rather be celebrating Samhain which is a different holiday celebrated on the same date. For Wiccans Samhain is one of the eight Solar Sabbats and is a time for remembering and honoring the dead. They also denounce any other dark practices, devil worship or black magic being performed under the guise of Halloween.
- Parents are a troubled lot as they say that explicit and scary costumes worn in the name of Halloween today scar the visual memories for their kids some of whom are traumatized for life. Some parents profess that Halloween was less scary when Halloween costumes were more about fun rather than being scary and outlandish.
When we look at Halloween as a tradition which is thousands of years old, it becomes easier to understand why people have been happy about celebrating death and its rituals. Death is a constant which is staring us in the face no matter here we are and what we are doing. Halloween teaches us not to be afraid of the final eventuality and have a good time while we are alive. It also reminds us to honor those who have lived before us and contributed to our lives positively and not be afraid of them.
Halloween as it is celebrated in the present times gives us a very real adrenalin rush that comes from facing our fears but in a controlled environment. The same adrenaline rush experiences while facing real danger cannot be enjoyed. So we have learned to make those fears lighter and evolved a festive ritual around Halloween to face our fears together in fun groups rather than fearing death all alone. Halloween is a good teacher for both children and adults alike.