Let’s Celebrate Halloween…

Irina Jusuf
Written by Irina Jusuf

Halloween or Hallows Eve is a traditional celebration on the night of October 31st, and is mainly celebrated in the United States. The tradition originated from Ireland, and was taken by the Irish who emigrated to North America. Halloween is usually celebrated by having children wear spooky costumes and going from door to door to ask for candy or chocolate, saying “Trick or treat!” The greeting is like a kind of “warning”, meaning “Give us (sweets) or we will scare you.”

These days, children don’t go to houses that have nothing to give. Usually, they only go up to homes that give out treats every Halloween, so that they don’t waste time on people who don’t care for the celebration. Sometimes, children will go to homes of people who are stingy and adorn their tree in front of their houses with toilet paper or throw raw eggs at the windows.  Halloween also encompasses the occult like the devil, witches, ghosts, goblins, and other creepy creatures seen in Western culture, such as Freddy Cougar from the Friday the 13th movies.

The History

Halloween history itself comes from the festival of Samhain (derived from the Old Irish Samain) which is celebrated by the Celts (Central European population) antiquity. This festival was a celebration at the end of the harvest season in the culture of the Gael, or commonly called the “Celtic New Year”. Celt people who have historically embraced Paganism (beliefs / spiritual practices the worship of idols), used the opportunity of this festival to slaughter cattle as well as stocking up on food for the winter.  The Gael tribe, an indigenous tribe from ancient Ireland, believed that every October 31st, the barrier between the dead and the living were opened. They were convinced that the dead would be harmful to the living, by carrying diseases and by damaging the crops.  While celebrating the festival, the Gaels lit a bonfire to burn the bones of the animals they slaughtered. Gaelic people would then wear costumes and masks, pretending to be evil spirits or by trying to make peace with them.

Fun fact, a universal symbol for Halloween are carved pumpkins forming creepy faces, commonly known as Jack-o’-lanterns. Lighted candles or lights are placed inside the Jack-o’-lanterns to make it look more sinister in dark places.

The Origin for the Term “Halloween”

Halloween was originally “All Hallows Eve”, which means All Saints’ Day.

The letter “n” at the end of the word Halloween comes from the event. In the olden days, November 1st was used as a day for religious festivals in various European pagan traditions, until Pope Gregory III and Gregory IV moved the celebration of All Saints’ Day in saint calendars from May 13th to November 1st. May 13th was once celebrated as a feast for the pagan festival of Lemuria.  All Saints’ Day which is determined by the Christian missionaries coincided with the feast of the pagans with the aim that they believe in Christianity. The Souls Day (Day of the Dead), which celebrates the arrival of the family spirits returning to Earth, is still celebrated in some countries such as Brazil, Mexico, and the Philippines.

Why is the Celebration of Halloween is Synonymous with Pumpkins?

As we know, carved pumpkins with scary faces or Jack-o’-Lanterns are very important symbols during Halloween. In the United States, Jack-o’-lanterns are usually placed at the entrance of the house as it’s getting dark, to give the impression of spookiness in one’s home. In almost every movie that tells the story of Halloween, carved out pimpkins serve as a backdrop for its Halloween season. So, why are carving pumpkins or Jack-o’-Lanterns so much a part of Halloween?

At first, the tradition of carving gourds were first introduced by citizens of the Northern States in America (state of Montana, Dakota, Minnesota, Idaho, Oregon, and other northern regions). The art of carving pumpkins became commonplace in the regions of North America, since the northern part of the United States is an area that produces a majority of large pumpkins.

The use of carving pumpkins for Halloween itself is based on an Irish folklore called “About Jack”. It talks about a lazy but smart farmer named Jack, who managed to shut the devil in his purse. He promises to release the devil as long as it doesn’t bring Jack’s spirit to hell if Jack died. Jack finally dies and the devil finally escapes from Jack’s wallet. Jack’s spirit was taken to hell by God, because during his life Jack often did evil, but as it turns out, it was blocked by the demon who already promised not to bring the spirit of Jack into hell.

So Jack’s ghost hung around aimlessly, deciding to make a lantern by carving a turnip and traveled the world to find his resting place.

The story underlies the use of carving turnips for the celebration of Halloween (lantern carving turnips synonymous with the devil). But because of the scarcity of rapeseed in North America, the use of turnips was replaced with pumpkins, which were easier to find. Until now, the use of pumpkins as a Halloween symbol is still preserved by the people of the United States.

How do they Celebrate Halloween in the United States?

For children in the United States, Halloween means the chance to wear Halloween costumes and get candy, while for adults, it’s a costume party, costume contest, and partying.  For retailers in America, Halloween is the second most profitable celebration after Christmas.

The Irish Americans brought back Halloween and also started the trick or treat tradition.  As the years went by Halloween became more and more popular.  Helped my merchants who want to sell candies, pumpkins, hats, wigs, and anything that can be tied into Halloween and make a profit.  Today costumes are mass produced and the variety of costumes never ends and keeps expanding.  For example you can be a princess but you can also be a Ninja Turtle.

In study conducted in 2005, the American Candy Producer Associations reported 80% of adults planned on handing out candy to children, while 93% of children wanted to drive around from door to door on Halloween night.

Anoka, Minnesota claims to be “the capital of Halloween” and celebrates Halloween with a massive parade. In Salem, Massachusetts, the city’s famous for legends about the witches in Salem, there are usually more travelers visiting around the time of Halloween.

In New York City, New York, they hold the biggest Halloween parade in the United States called ‘New York’s Village Halloween Parade’. The parade which was initiated  by Greenwich Village puppeteer and mask maker in 1974, it now attracts 50,000 costumed participants and is watched by 4 million television viewers.  What a celebration! (By: Irina/various sources)

About the author

Irina Jusuf

Irina Jusuf