While Halloween is typically thought of as the colorful time of year when leaves turn glorious shades of red, orange, and yellow. Pumpkins appear for sale in grocery stores, Halloween festivities can be found everywhere. Although many see it as another holiday, the significance and symbolism of Halloween can be dated far back..
This highly commercialized holiday many Americans participate in is merely adapted from the original holiday. Halloween was referred to asw Hollows’ Eve in medieval Christianity, but may actually date farther back than medieval times.
“The belief that the dead come back to life goes back before pre-Christian times,” said Professor Gary Ebersole, the chair of the history department at UMKC and an expert on comparative religions. “In Medieval Christianity it was the day when the dead come back and get a taste of what the Second Coming will be like at the end of the world.”
Ebersole mentioned that the holiday is still on the liturgical calendar in many churches. Over time, Halloween has transitioned from a religious holiday into a festival for children, which non-Christians also celebrate. This version of Halloween emerged much later.
“The American event started around the 19th century,” said Ebersole. “It’s a part of immigration history that has been adopted and adapted over time.”
Most sources attribute Halloween’s emergence in the U.S. to the Celtics. The ancient feast of the Celtics called Samhain, or the Celtic New Year, was thought to be a time between Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 when the wall separating the worlds of the living and the dead was opened so that spirits and ghosts could pass back through.
Ebersole said in America, part of the holiday is just good business. He added that political masks and Big Bird costumes are far removed from the holiday’s original purpose, but are not necessarily unauthentic..
The symbolism behind trick-or-treating, Ebersole said, involves the belief that participants can buy off the spirits of the dead.
“When travelers came to crossroads in particular, the spirits of the dead lurked,” Ebersole said. “Trick means malevolent or causing trouble, unless you bribe them.”
Other traditions, like bobbing for apples, are a coincidence. Halloween has always been celebrated around harvest time, when apples are picked.
Halloween is celebrated by different cultures across the world. In many Asian cultures, the holiday is called the Festival of the Dead, and is associated with the harvest in Asia. In Mexico, the culture celebrates “Dia de los Muertos,” or Day of the Dead, which falls on Nov. 1.
Almost every culture celebrates a version of Halloween. It’s safe to say humanity’s fascination with the dead simply can’t be left alone.