by Madeline M.H. Grosh
Halloween is a holiday widely celebrated across the United States and Western Europe. Caught up in the excitement of the holiday, many do not understand the mysteries and the fears that make up the original reason for its creation. Halloween is renowned for being the one day when you are able to wear a costume, stay up late, and ask neighbors for candy. The holiday may provide an adrenaline rush once a year in today’s society, but hundreds of years ago it was the ultimate test of evil versus good.
The Halloween tradition can be traced back to the Celtic Samhain festival of the autumn harvest. This festival took place during the time the Celts believed to be the end of summer, what we now consider to be late October or early November, and just prior to winter because the first frost had not yet set. The Celts believed that, along with winter, evil spirits also arrived. This festival was meant to bless the Celts, who protected themselves from the evil spirits by wearing costumes, chanting, and holding sacrifices. Around this time of the year, as Cindy Dell Clark states, the Celts would also celebrate death, life, and the art of moving between the two worlds. They believed priests could see into the future during this season.
As Europeans made the pilgrimage to America, many religious holidays were brought to the New World. As the beliefs of pilgrims and American Indians intertwined, Halloween continued as an annual harvest festival to celebrate ghosts and spirits, as well as the lost and loved. When the Irish traveled to America after the potato famine of 1846, the poor would wander from house to house begging for food and money (Clark). Typically, the household would request the beggar to perform a “trick” in order to receive the food/money—the “treat,” hence the term “trick-or-treating” (“History”).
The celebration of Halloween thus became a fixture in the American society and holiday system. Not only did the holiday continue to develop and grow in America, but many other countries, including Germany, accepted Halloween as one of their own. Since the 1990’s, Halloween has become more celebrated and known throughout Germany, particularly in areas heavily influenced by America during the Cold War, i.e. the Dahlem neighborhood of Berlin. Trick-or-treating has become a fad for children, while costume parties have become common among adults. Many of the elderly German generation—typically grandparents of the current generation—simply see Halloween as causing vandalism and problems for children (Connolly and Neate).
While Halloween began as a festival to protect the locals and keep the evil spirits away, it grew and adapted. Now, it is a national holiday that celebrates the dark side and the physicality of the unknown. Rather than completing a trick and receiving a treat, trick-or-treaters now simply expect a treat with a costume of varying identity. With the evolution of a festival came the excitement of a holiday, but one should never forget the roots and reasonings behind an event—especially one so grand in nature.
Clark, Cindy Dell. “Tricks of Festival: Children, Enculturation, and American Halloween.” Ethos, vol. 33, no. 2, 2005, pp. 180–205. www.jstor.org/stable/3651928.
Connolly, Nicholas, and Rupert Neate. “Holiday Backlash: Germans Cringe at Rise of Halloween.” Der Spiegel. 31 Oct. 2013: n. pg. Web. 23 Nov. 2016.
“History of Trick-or-Treating.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, Oct. 2011. Web. 23 Nov.