Honoring the Dead during Halloween

Subject: Culture
Type: Profile Essay
Pages: 3
Word count: 904
Topics: American Culture, Halloween, Symbolism, Tradition

The Halloween festival has been around for over 2000 years. Available documented literature shows that it has its origins in the Celtic Culture and was initially celebrated in Ireland, Scotland and other parts of Europe. According to Ankerberg and Weldon (1996) this pre-Christian Celtic was usually held on the 1st of November famously dubbed as Samhain. Many historians note that the exact nature of Samhain is not known but it is believed it was an annual meeting that was held after winter. During these meetings resources would be gathered for the forthcoming winter months as well as animals brought back from the pasture fields. It is also believed that Samhain entailed communion with the dead. The belief was that during such a time the line between the dead and the living diminished making it possible for the spirits of the dead to easily cross over. In Celtic times such moments were treated as very special. And so in order to be on the right of these spirits people would offer sacrifices and even put on costumes that depicted such a spiritual realm.

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An important aspect of the festival is the pumpkin. The thinking is that since pumpkins are very big, orange colored-squash, this has led to the adoption of orange as the official color of Halloween. It’s important to note that this tradition hails back to ancient Irish times where it is believed there lived a legend called Jack. The legend Jack was very mean such that when he died he was not allowed in heaven and so his spirit came back to the earth. The Irish people believed that since his spirit was doomed to wander in the earth anyhow he used the lit lantern to find his way. That’s why they would curve scary faces from the turnips which were representing the Jack of the lantern. However, according to Ankerberg and Weldon (1996) When the Irish people moved to the United states they realized that there was a dearth of turnips during winter and so they opted for the pumpkins because they were in plenty during the winter. The belief is that the light chases away evil spirits that would devour and cause to the people and even their property including farms. In ancient times it was believed that putting such turnips which consisted of scary faces in the fields would wade away evil spirits. This is because as aforementioned on Halloween night it was believed that the boundaries between the spirits and the world of the living became intertwined. Nowadays the lit pumpkins are placed in front of the house or close the window to signal that children are welcome for goodies.

According to Sally M and C Tynan (2008) the Halloween festival is considered important because it is the only time of the year that people could mimic the dead, something that cannot happen any other time of the year. During the Halloween festival in the ancient days normally the Celtics would cause all manner of damage ranging from destroying the crops and causing trouble. The festival was also very crucial to the people at that time because it was believed that the spirits of the dead would visit the living and even cause the prophets to make predictions about their future. Such prophecies were dear to many who wanted to know what their future would be like and so the festival was taken seriously. In addition, the prophecies were very important in building the hope of people who found themselves vulnerable to unfavorable climatic conditions especially the winter which was usually very long and dark. Over the years the festival is now being celebrated in many parts of the world but most importantly is the fact that there are various ways it’s done depending on the culture and the location of the people.

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For instance, in America the festival is celebrated but it’s a hybrid of English and Irish traditions. Over the years Americans usually dress in ghostly attires and on the eve of Halloween they have adopted a tradition that has come to be known as trick or treat tradition (Sally M and C Tynan, 2008). This trick or treat tradition is usually the reserve for the children who promise mischief if not treated well. When this is going on the adults are usually preoccupied with decorating their houses with spooky messages and planning parties and merry. This is whereby people move from house to house dressed in Halloween costume and ask for things like food or money. Even more interesting is the new development where schools are now organizing Halloween parties and in some cases it is celebrated in the neighborhoods in what is termed as block parties. This practice has come under harsh criticism by religious leaders and even scholars who have termed it as extortion. While its spread has gone to various parts of the world, the festival continues to attract sharp criticism. For instance, in 2009 the Pope publicly condemned the festival terming it evil and anti-Christian. The various Catholics majorly from Spain reiterated that Halloween is basically a secular festival that has its origin in ancient traditional practices.

Did you like this sample?
  1. Ankerberg and Weldon (1996). The Facts on Halloween, Harvest House Publishing.
  2. Sally M and C Tynan (2008) Halloween in a Material world: Trick or Treat; Journal of Marketing management Vol 24, Iss 9-10.
  3. Film “The hundred history of Halloween”.
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