Halloween is arguably one of the most iconic celebrations in the world. With spooky decorations, a plethora of costumes, and trick-or-treating for candy by the bucket load, this is a festivity kids and adults enjoy annually.
“Nobody frets about being lonely, abandoned, heartbroken, alienated, or bereft on Halloween,” psychologist Gina Barreca said in her article “Why Halloween Can Bring Out the Best of Us” on the Psychology Today website. “There is about one-hundredth as much emotional tension surrounding Halloween as surrounds Valentine’s Day, for example, or New Year’s Eve.”
But Halloween has focused on more than costumes and sugary treats. The history behind spooky festivities has more cultural and religious weight than most people know.
This celebration deserves to be recognize as a federal holiday in the United States, where families and friends may take the day off to revel in the activities only offered by Halloween.
Halloween and culture
In ancient times, the Celtic festival known as Samhainrecognized Oct. 31 as an imperative day where the boundaries between the spirit world and the world of the living are dropped. The souls of the departed and other supernatural beings are then free to walk among the earth.
While America has adopted Samhain traditions into modern-day Halloween customs, such as costume-dressing and bobbing for apples, over the years, many people tend to overlook the religious aspects of Halloween.
“In Mexico, it is a big holiday,” Mexican-American Nancy Alvarez said to USA Today, in reference to her own culture’s Catholic ritual of Halloween: Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.
A three-day event, it is custom for families to visit the graves of their loved ones and decorate them. Other customs include preparing food offerings, constructing altars and making special meals for their own families.
Instead of a sorrowful atmosphere, there is great joy and happiness as these families begin to pray for the souls of departed family members.
“The dead come to visit their families, to eat and drink with them, and then go back," said Levi Guerrero, who immigrated from Mexico to the U.S. when he was six, to USA Today.
"For Mexicans, death is something good, not bad. We say death is like waking up, we are not afraid of death, we embrace it.”
Even though Dia de los Muertos technically starting on Nov. 1, the celebrations start on October 31 and, like Samhain, recognize the spirit of dead and rejoice that their loved ones are in the afterlife.
The difference with Dia de los Muertos is that instead of carving jack-o-lanterns and ghoulish decorations, they construct mini altars and leave food offerings, fake skulls, incense and a picture of the dearly departed. Both hold ties to Christianity, except Halloween is believed to be more tied to pagan roots.
Halloween follows ‘holiday’ criteria
Halloween has many of the same characteristics of Thanksgiving and Christmas: decorations, unique foods and get-togethers.
Halloween is a time where family and friends gather together to enjoy the night’s festivities with one another. Whether taking the kids trick-or-treating, visiting a haunted house or hosting a costume party, everybody has a terrific time just by being together.
The culture of Halloween deserves to be recognized by the government as a federal holiday. It is recognized nationally by the public, and enjoyed by millions who treat it as more than a night of trick-or-treating.