The History of Halloween

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Illustration by Alyssa Long

Linda Chong

Opinions Editor & Senior Copy Editor

For the purpose of this article, let’s imagine Halloween won’t be indoors and isolated this year. Instead, let’s reminisce about the perfect Halloween back when COVID-19 was non-existent. Princesses and Batmans filled the streets to trick-or-treat with plastic pumpkins to hold their loot. Skeletons, candy corn, and gaudy orange-black decorations would fill the stores, next to aisles of autumnal essentials. College students stocked up on booze and toilet paper while parents arranged their indoor palooza of delivery pizza, wine, and “Hocus Pocus.”

Halloween is a range of interchangeable experiences and goals for different age groups that collectively celebrate becoming someone you’re not. Think about it; children wear costumes and become mini adults that earn relative “wages” and young adults act like children, drinking spirits or watching them on screen. But how did Halloween become a day of horror, costumes, and candy? What inspired such synergy and culture to rule over us on Oct. 31? 

To relay some history, the Celtic tradition Samhain was originally a day to celebrate agricultural harvest and yield. Many during this time would retell the myths of the underworld portal opening on the eve of Samhain, and townspeople would leave out food and gifts for roaming spirits that had drifted too far. Sometimes tricksters and village idiots would disguise themselves to imitate spirits for selfish gain, gleaning whatever treats they could from those that they fooled; hence the phrase, “trick-or-treat.” 

Despite the harmless offerings left outside homes, the Catholic churches labeled any spiritual beings other than angels, demons. Considering the systemized classification of spirits as demons and the emphasis of the underworld’s crossover, no wonder Halloween has become dedicated to the dead and undead. Overall, Samhain’s customs influenced the famous All Hallows’ Eve, an English tradition that coined the term “Halloween.”

Now, with all history considered, you realize Halloween is more than just bone-chilling content and a night to let yourself go. People might say it’s a suburban culture that symbolizes wealth and socioeconomic hierarchy. They could also attribute Halloween with the devil and call it an unholy day. But from what I’ve gauged, Halloween is about expression and taking on another persona, or letting your true self emerge from its socially compressed shell. It might also be an attempt to gain capital and increase economic traffic seeing as the decorations, costumes, and candy aren’t free; but we aren’t focusing on that today. 

Though this Halloween we’ll be subject to health protocols and quarantines, I think we still have the liberty to utilize the time and space to rediscover ourselves. Just as the Celtic origin Samhain was about appreciating cumulated harvest, reflect on your own yield this year. Start your makeover literally and mentally, and most importantly, socially distance yourself.