An Essay on the Importance of Halloween in American Society

Halloween has become one of the most celebrated retail holidays in our American culture although the roots of the holiday are shrouded in religious beliefs that have survived from the beginning of time. Think of Halloween and visions of costumes, jack-o-lanterns and candy appear. Lots of candy! But the earliest celebrations of Halloween symbolize the eternal struggle between good vs. evil which is still representative in our society today.

According to Maggie Black, Halloween, All Hallows Eve or Hallowtide includes Halloween evening and the feast of All Saints followed by All Souls’ Day (October 31st to November 2nd) and has a history rich in religious traditions that originated with the Celtic feast of Samhain which celebrated the end of summer and the harvest. (60) The Celts believed that on Halloween the dead walked the earth again and this brought much fear to the people. (60) Early agricultural societies revolved around the seasons and as summer traveled into fall and the warming influence of the sun waned, they began preparations for the long hard winters. The bounty that was evident from the summer harvest provided the perfect backdrop for a celebration. The Celts looked to the seasons to answer questions they had about their own existence and I believe this natural progression of the seasons caused them to try to explain how they thought their world operated back then.

2014-10-27 05.54.20

During the harvest celebration, the Celts also celebrated their dead which is also explained by the season of fall and associated with death. Bonfires were lit to drive the evil demons away and protect the souls that were still earthbound. Great feasts were held to celebrate the bounty of the harvest and religious rites were performed to purify the people for another year so they could produce another bountiful harvest the following year. As Christianity developed throughout the world, some of the more basic traditions from the Celts followed with the Halloween holiday. Gradually, demons became witches and Halloween in America settled into a celebration of the harvest and the bounty that the summer produced.

I recall as a child attending Halloween parties that were focused on the harvest of fall. Apples, nuts, pumpkins and gourds were readily found in the fall. Pumpkins were carved to symbolize laughing or crazy faces as if to mock the evil spirits from long ago. Costumes were worn as a disguise and I wondered if that was so the evil would not recognize my true form and find me. These Halloween traditions have followed us into the Twenty First Century.

Halloween has become one of the most important retail holidays celebrated in America today. At its humble beginnings, Halloween consisted of carved pumpkins and homemade costumes and Trick-or-Treat. I remember the thrill when I tromped up to a neighbor’s house all dressed up in a disguise and shouted out, “Trick or Treat!” It was equally thrilling when a full size Milky Way bar or some other precious sweet that I loved was deposited into my treat bag.

The retail phenomenon began about fifteen years ago. Suddenly, everyone had a lawn display that consisted of ghoulish graveyards, huge blowup Frankenstein monsters or black cauldrons boiling some smelly concoction. Hidden stereos spewed forth scary sounds in decibels high enough to make your toes curl! Neighborhoods had contests with one another and their neighbor’s yards were crammed with every imaginable Halloween decoration that is available for sale today.

outdoor-halloween-decorations

(Image credit: Outdoor Halloween Decorations)

“Halloween is becoming more sophisticated as people start taking their celebrating seriously,” says Kathy Grannis, a spokesperson for the National Retail Federation. “It’s a fun, stress-free holiday that allows you to be as creative as you want to be.” (Herbst 1) Coupled with that, the retailers want you to spend your money on their Halloween themed items. Halloween displays typically show up in stores across America before the kids have gone back to school in many cities! Halloween is big money in the retail world and we Americans have created a monster in sales.

“The average American will spend nearly $60 to celebrate Halloween this year. Consumers spend the most on costumes, averaging about $22 a person, followed by decorations, candy, and greeting cards.” (Herbst 1) Decorations are fueling the retail industry. Everyone wants to recreate their favorite horror movie scene or have the best graveyard on the block. No Halloween party in America is complete without cobwebs and giant spiders stretched across your ceiling! Besides that, the retailers remind us with every advertising venue possible that it is not fun to Trick or Treat at a house with no decorations!

Halloween is fun because it allows everybody to let loose and be something they are not. When you buy into Halloween, you buy into the fantasy of Halloween. Because our unemployment percentages are at the highest levels in years and so many people are out of work, Halloween has become the ultimate way to pretend that your life is better. As Americans, we need diversions that give us cause for celebration. Halloween does that. It’s the one night a year to live in a fantasy and then return to the reality of your life the next day.

Halloween is still about the fall season and signifies the first holiday of the traditional American holiday season. Just like the Celts long ago celebrated the harvest and the end of the summer, today we share the same thirst for the fall celebration. The religious overtones of the holiday have been replaced with a more commercial view of Halloween that is like an offering and a hope to keep all that is evil at bay. I think the Celts would understand.

Works Cited

Black, Maggie. “Saints and Soul-caking.” History Today 31.11 (1981): 60. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 9 Oct. 2010.

Herbst, Moira. “The Booming Business of Halloween.” BusinessWeek Online (2006): 1. Academic SearchComplete. EBSCO. Web. 9 Oct. 2010.

2014 © Copyright-All rights reserved www.silverthreading.com

Thanks for stopping by to see what I am up to.  It is Halloween Week and I look forward to seeing you again!

Silver Threading

37 comments

  1. I’ve read somewhere that the success of the early Hollywood horror movies from the 30’s and 40’s were based on the escapism that it provided people who were enduring the depression. It’s very similar to what you state about Halloween and allowing people to escape, even if it’s only for a night.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I think so too. When I was a kid life seemed simpler. Now both parents work just to support a family. It is all so much harder now. I think there are more adult Halloween parties now. Everyone is looking for a way to escape the dull grind of work. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Halloween is celebrated here in the UK, Colleen, but probably no where near as it is in the States. When I was a child, my father would hang apples from string and we would all take it in turns, on Halloween evening, to try and take a bite out of the apple with our hands behind our back. There was also ducking apples where apples would bob up and down in a bowl of water and again, with hands behind your back, you would try and take a bite out of those apples. All great fun that always bought lots of laughter with it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. When I was young we didn’t do a lot for Halloween, just a couple of games and lots od scary stories. Nowadays we seem to have adopted the more American way of celebrating with sweet and kids Trick or Treating. I don’t mind this as I love seeing the effort the kids go to with their costumes, and all the Halloween decorations that can be bought! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Van, our American way of life is built around commerce. Retail therapy! When I lived in the U.K. in the early 1980’s they did not celebrate Halloween. For them, it was Guy Fawkes Night, November 5th, I believe.

      I think our whole American culture is based on buying “things.” I should say “obsessed.”

      Also, literary figures such as Hawthrone truly brought the scary to American Halloween with the Sleepy Hollow tale. We do like our bit of ghoulishness don’t we? 😉

      Thanks for reading, Van. Interesting how the Halloween holiday outspends Christmas now: http://www.wjhg.com/home/headlines/Halloween-vs-Christmas-Which-Costs-More-174303781.html

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I know, fascinating, especially in the decorations. We have home decorating contests here for both Halloween and Christmas. I like Thanksgiving, myself. A much underrated holiday that mostly about family and food. 🍗

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I love Halloween decorations, the costumes. and Halloween food, but I don;t, nor have I ever, liked the trick or treating part of the holiday.
    A very interesting post with lots of background information.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is interesting how the holiday seemed to evolve with time. Trick or Treat has always been contentious. I read that the giving out candy part began in the big cities as a way to steer kids away from “tricks.” I guess it worked and morphed into the tradition we have today.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. When I was a young child, Trick or Treat was held on the night before Halloween, and on the 29th there was something called damage night. People would go around and soap or candle your windows, throw eggs at your house, and such. (My husband said it was called cabbage night in his town.) It was still around when our oldest son was little but was fading out. It was usually junior high and high school aged kids that participated, and mostly boys. Back then I guess girls were afraid of getting a mark on their reputation.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I enjoyed this and I am going to read it to my 12 year old daughter. I think she will like to know these things about the history of Halloween.

    We are having fun making our plans and preparations for Saturday. I have 3 activities planned for the weekend. I need my energy pills!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.