Is Halloween bad?
- Halloween is traced back to the ancient Celtic harvest celebration Samhain (pronounced “sow-in”), a ritual created to mark the end of summer and beginning of winter. Also believed to be an overlap between the spiritual and physical world, children and adults would dress up in costumes, play games, and tell fortunes.
- All Saints Day, aka All Hallow’s Day (“Hallow” means Holy) is a Catholic celebration to celebrate the Saints. The holiday was moved by Pope Gregary III from May 13 to November 1. This is why “Halloween” was once known as “All Hallow’s Eve” as it was the eve before All Saints/Hallow’s Day. Many scholars think All Saints' Day and Samhain influenced each other on the calendar due to their proximity, leading to Samhain being renamed as Halloween.
- Halloween is celebrated around the world with different traditions, but most notably in Mexico’s Dia de Los Muertos or “Day of the Dead,” celebrated from midnight Nov 1-2.
- According to a 2017 Fortune article, kids were estimated to consumed “around three cups of sugar (or about 7,000 calories of candy) on Halloween.”
- In 2019, an estimated 172 million American celebrated Halloween, spending $8.8 billion on Halloween-related retail.
- Reformation Day also falls on October 31, which celebrates Martin Luthor nailing his famous 95 Theses to a church door “confronting two religious observances that promoted false saintliness and exploited people’s fear of judgment and purgatory.” This act sparked the Protestant Reformation. Some Christians celebrate this over Halloween.
Halloween originated approximately 2000 years ago as a celebration of death and the underworld by the Celts of Ireland. It also observed the end of summer and the beginning of the harvest season, with costumes originating from actual animals killed, sacrificed, and skinned for the occasion. In America, vandalism and violence became as much a part of Halloween's history as costumes and candy, so much so, some towns came close to banning it.
The emphasis on death and scary things is frightening to children for whom the holiday is largely geared. The idea of disguising oneself with a costume isn't bad and can be great fun; but, the fact that many Halloween costumes are so terribly frightening neutralizes any social benefit.
Then there's the unavoidable sugar high. Candy is so notably unhealthy, and children tend to get addicted to sugar. This contributes to the widespread problem of childhood obesity and potential diabetes as they get older.
If healthier treats or small prizes were distributed relating to the harvest motif instead of candy, the practice of trick-or-treating from house to house could actually be a great way to get to know your neighbors better. Many churches have successfully capitalized on this idea by organizing yearly get-togethers for children, including costume contests, games, mazes, craft areas, and prizes that replace the scary theme.
Maybe we should consider renaming Halloween to ditch the historical connections to death and all things scary, and replace it with a fall festival of fun emphasizing wholesome social interaction and name it accordingly.
Society displays a wonderful spectrum of culture in our yearly array of holidays. We have days for family, lovers, friends, and nature, all influenced by centuries of history. We celebrate the happy and the patriotic occasions alike, so why not the grotesque? Halloween is the best, broadest, and most accessible holiday celebrating human creativity. Not even capitalism has managed to ruin its expression in our culture as it has with holidays like Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, by making it wholly commercialized and purchase-focused. While there is plenty of money to be made in candy, costume, and decoration sales, it's the unique, often hand-made costumes and treats that receive the most praise each year. This is especially true in the internet age when it's exceedingly simple to share the process and outcome of these creations for others to emulate and enjoy.
Most arguments against Halloween are religiously motivated, which ultimately limits their scope of relevancy. These arguments seem especially misplaced when one considers the pagan roots of traditions surrounding Easter and Christmas—two overtly Christian holidays. The fearful nature of religion and its brutal iconography have influenced the horror genre for years. Halloween simply draws from the same defining spirit of the age to provide a form of emotional release like any other ritual. Christmas draws this release from charity, Thanksgiving from gratitude, birthday parties from growth, and funerals from grief. Halloween is the one day a year we allow ourselves to dress in whatever outlandish costume our imagination can conjure and make light of our own mortality, which can open the door to discussions of death without grief. In this way, Halloween performs an essential function as a pressure release for existential dread.