Halloween: Ancient Roots and Modern Perspectives


2,000 years ago, October 31st was the day the dead roamed the earth. People would leave offerings of food and wine outside their houses to appease the spirits, and would wear masks as disguises to look like the fellow phantoms. These events would take place the night before the Celtic festival known as Samhain – pronounced as ‘sow-in’. Their New Year started on November 1st, and they believed that on their New Year’s Eve that the realms between the living and the dead became intertwined and spirits were free to roam the earth. In the 8th century, the European Catholic church renamed November 1st as All Saints Day or All Hallows Day and remained October 31st as All Hallows Eve later renamed again to Halloween.

Much of the modern traditions of Halloween, such as dressing up and going door to door for food, took root in medieval Britain. Labeled as guising, a child would ask for food, drink, et cetera and in return preform an act of entertainment. Later, in the 19th century, Scottish and Irish immigrants brought these old traditions to America and the result was trick-or-treating. However, Halloween in America started out with strong focus on mischievous themes and only became family-friendly in the 1950’s. Halloween is an old and commercially popular holiday being the second most celebrated holiday in America. With this in mind I interviewed two people with contrasting views to see what Halloween means to them.

My first interview was a fellow Reinhardt student, Jamie Rhinehart. Rhinehart, expressed that she wasn’t the biggest fan of Halloween. I asked her why and she started that, “I liked Halloween when I was young, but now I don’t like the effort of dressing up.” Rhinehart said that she stopped dressing up after fourth grade because it no longer retained the joy she once experienced. “Personally, I felt like I was dressing up to be someone that I wasn’t.” I then asked her if she enjoyed the themes that surrounded Halloween – fear, horror etc. Rhinehart replied,” I don’t like horror or dressing up. I never enjoyed watching or prefer scary movies because I don’t have time for it.” However, Rhinehart did state that she preferred to give out candy on Halloween rather than receive it. “I don’t have sweet tooth.”

Lastly, I interviewed Dr. Summey, the Assistant Professor of Spanish and Director of the Honors Program. Dr. Summey was born in El Salvador and has lived in Peru, as well as, Spain. Halloween wasn’t something that was celebrated in those countries. I asked her when she first heard about Halloween and she said that, “Both of my parents are American, so there was mention of Halloween but since I grew up overseas there was no example of it.” She continued by saying that Halloween didn’t hold any true meaning to her and she just viewed it as another day on the calendar. “The monsters that I had to learn about were really horrible monsters so the idea that you would willingly dress up as one just seemed kind of odd.” I then asked Dr. Summey if they were any similar holidays to Halloween that she grew up with, like the Day of the Dead. Dr. Summey explained that there wasn’t much of anything

similar to Halloween. “Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), was more along the lines of Memorial Day where you go and honor the dead.” I asked if there were any comparisons between these two holidays and she relayed that there were some similarities in the forms of death, fear, and the unknown.

Next I inquired when the first time Dr. Summey experienced Halloween was. She replied, “I experienced Halloween, for the first time, when I was about 12. Usually, we would come to the U.S. during the summer time for a couple of weeks and then we would leave. We were in transition from moving to Peru to Spain and we hit the tail end of the year. That’s when I experienced Halloween for the first time.” “I was with friends and we just ran around to the scariest homes and asked for candy. It was terrifying but so much fun because it was real fear.” She continued by saying that when she reached parenthood Halloween was seen as a way to make all the scary things that children are afraid of less offensive because they would become desensitized.

In conclusion, Halloween started out as way to appease the spirits and protect oneself and one’s family. Later on it was rebranded by the church to bring about a sense of holiness and used as a time to beg for food, drink, or money and, in return, to tell a joke, recite poetry, or sing. Now it is used as a way to have fun with friends, start of the holiday season, eat indulgently, and feel a rush of adrenaline. Halloween is no longer considered, by the mass majority, as an unholy holiday, but as an outlet to have fun and to start enjoying the act of giving before Christmas comes along.

Written By: James Gilbert

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