Costumes and candy, what else could someone want?
One night a year, all the ghoulish beings come out to play in the streets while kids run door to door chanting their famous line in order to receive candy. But how did it all start?
This famous holiday can be traced back to the ancient Nordic celebration of Samhain over 2,000 years ago. Held on November 1st, the Gaelic festival marked the end of the harvest with a grand party. The night before Samhain was supposed to be the begging of the "dark" part of the yea, and it was believed that on that night, ghosts could walk among the living. To appease these ghosts, people left food and wine on their doorsteps and if they left the house, they would wear masks to confuse the ghosts into thinking they were also otherworldly apparitions.
Time passed and Christianity grew a larger influence, so around the 8th century Samhain was turned into All Saints Day, aka All Hallows Day, and was meant to be a holy day which was dedicated to saints of the church or all of those who reached Heaven. The night before was deemed All Hallows Eve, shortened to our familiar "Halloween", and, like Samhain, celebrated the harvest with bonfires and feasts.
Trick or treating also developed around this time but was normally done on All Souls Day, November 2nd. It was an event called "souling" in which beggars and hungry youths went door-to-door asking for a pastry called a "soul cake" and in return, they would pray for the dead of the household. Instead of saying the phrase we know so well, these hungry people would sing "A soul cake, a soul cake, have mercy on all Christians for a soul cake!" An even creepier version was developed later on too:
"Soul, soul, an apple or two,
If you haven't an apple, a pear will do,
One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for the Man Who made us all."
I don't know why that seems so oddly scary to me, but if any movie director is looking for a new nursery rhyme for the possessed kid in their movie to sing, I got you covered.
That's not the only tradition we adopted. Another popular thing for medieval children to do was to participate in "guising." Young children would get offerings of food, wine, and even money if the performed by singing, reciting poetry, or telling jokes.
Sadly, these traditions were neglected and forgotten over time, until the 19th century in America. Immigrants from Ireland and Scotland gathered together in celebration and brought these old traditions back into the light. This newly revived Halloween was mainly focused on playing pranks on people while dressed in costumes, but in the 1950's the holiday transformed into what we think of today, family fun, going house to house and getting candy.
So to my main point: why is Halloween so important? First off, it's an amazing business. Not only is over 2 billion dollars spent annually on costumes alone, but another 4 billion dollars is spent just on Halloween candy yearly! Halloween is the second most profitable holiday in America, with only Christmas being in the lead (wow, who could've guessed...)
Next, Halloween is a perfect time to reflect on the importance of rituals and tradition. Every kid that's celebrated this famed holiday is going to remember the time spent carving jack-o-lanterns with their parents, siblings, or friends. They'll recall their favorite houses for their parents to walk them to at night (you know, the ones that give out the full-size candy bars!) And even adults can have a party with apple cider and pumpkin pie, enjoying the rituals set up by our ancestors so long ago.
Another reason is stress. Yes, the thing everyone college students dreads, and I can attest to that, stress can be good for human beings. If we're in an environment that we know is safe, even subliminally, and won't scar us for the rest of our lives, a good scare allows the brain to release a flood of chemicals like adrenaline, endorphins, and dopamine...which all feel really good. When your heart is pounding and you can hear the blood rushing in your ears that's when you're really enjoying Halloween. That's why some people are so addicted to watching horror movies: they get that thrill of terror but they know that they won't be hurt by what they're seeing. It's a strange fear-induced high that is especially fun on the night of the best holiday of the year (not being biased or anything, I swear.)
Halloween is also great because it lets people dress as crazy as they want with no judgment! Yes, the balding middle-aged man can be Lady Gaga, why not? That teen girl wants to be Duracell Battery? I don't see why not! Halloween is a fantastic way to get out all the creative juices in one big burst so that the rest of the year goes by a little bit easier...or at least easier until Christmas time.
Finally, Halloween can be a coping method. The basis of the holiday is centered around the idea of death. Not exactly the most fun thing to discuss. Luckily, it puts death in a funnier light for just that night, because who can be sad when they're eating free chocolate? The Mexican holiday of Dia De Los Muertos is especially good at this topic. Not to be confused with Halloween, the Day of the Dead, celebrated on November 1st, is a way for Mexican families to honor and celebrate those who have passed on. With sugar skulls, bright colors, and feasts in graveyards, death doesn't seem as spooky, rather it seems like an inevitable thing for all of us that's worth being excited for what comes after.
To all those who are anti-Halloween, I hope you at least give the parties a try this year. It's a great holiday filled with an incredible amount of history and tradition, while also have a lot of fun, modern twists.
To the rest of us Halloween junkies: girls, break out the fishnets, and guys, bust out the ironic costumes, this is going to be a fun night!