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.

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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.

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(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.

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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

Gratitude Sunday–Holidays

Gratitude Sunday

As part of Colline’s Gratitude Project, I would like to say how thankful I am for holidays.  Halloween is just around the corner and I dearly miss the days when my children were still home getting ready for Trick-or-Treat.  I loved carving pumpkins and all the fuss that came at that time of the year.

Everything about the holiday in our home, had to do with family.  With five kids it was always fun to dream up costumes that we could do ourselves.  It took many days of planning and brain storming to come up with ideas that the kids really loved.

Halloween 1991

We always had someone who wanted to be a vampire (Tabitha), or the walking dead (Amy).  Billy lucked out that year and got to dress up like the Cracker Jack guy.

Even our all black Pomeranian, Pu-Chai, got into the holiday.  One year, Tabitha made bat wings we attached to the dog.  He proudly went Trick-or-Treating with the kids showing off his wings.  No matter what, we always had fun.

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Even today, my artistic daughter Tabitha still loves to dress up and attend Halloween parties.  Her Mexican Day of the Dead costume is dead-on!  (No pun intended). Smile  I plan on giving out candy on Halloween night.  What do you do to celebrate the holiday?

Thanks for creeping by to see what scary things I am up to.  I’ll see you again,

Silver Threading