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Happy Halloween: But Why Do We Celebrate This Holiday

This year Halloween coincides with Hurricane. While both kids and adults will try to salvage what they can, Halloween will be celebrated in a toned-down way.

For most people, Halloween is a holiday where grown adults and children get to indulge their inner-child and dress in fantastical costumes, while gorging themselves with massive amounts of candy which culminates in an estimated $8 billion in Halloween sales for this year alone.

Regardless of the ongoing economy slump, there has not been a foreseeable cut in Halloween spending. 

It’s interesting how different cultures honor important holidays as a way to preserve important values. In this respect, Halloween is an example of the power that the Catholic Church once held as well as the importance that agriculture played in the early formation of society. Our modern understanding of Halloween has morphed into a aberration from the original purpose of Halloween. According to one article, “Children are getting the wrong idea about a special day of the year that is meant to be fun, to celebrate the harvest, and recognize our saints.”

As fellow PolicyMic-er Andy Morgan noted in his article, this holiday is said to have Celtic roots. October 31was known as “All Hallow’s Eve.” This was the day that the realm between the living and dead were the thinnest and coincided with the last day of summer harvest.  

Around 609 AD, the Roman Catholic Church tried to stamp out the pagan holiday of the Celtic Druids. Rather than prohibiting the holiday outright and antagonizing the locals, November 1 was designated All Saints Day (to honor all saints, known and unknown) and November 2 was All Soul’s Day (in remembrance of the faithful departed whose souls may be in purgatory).

In England and Ireland, the common belief held at the time, was that souls residing in purgatory could be sent to heaven by people praying for them.

This is where the ‘trick-or-treating’ custom came into effect. Beggars knocked on doors and asked for sweets (‘soul-cakes’) and in return, promised to say a prayer for those in purgatory. This fit into the Church’s narrative that religion played and reinforced prayer.

The Celtics were not the only culture to recognize the significance in harvesting crops at the end of summer. In Denmark, the Halloween holiday started out as a week-long festival known as “Potato Week.” It has now morphed into a 10-day holiday. From October 12-28, Tivoli Gardens (the second oldest amusement park in the world) celebrates Halloween with appropriate-themed events T he entrance to Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen is said to be the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Disneyland.  

 

Halloween serves as a seasonal reminder. It’s easy to forget that before the Industrial Revolution, harvesting crops and agriculture were the primary means of feeding one’s community. For example, in Scranton, Pennsylvania — the site of the famed Iron Furnace was an important part of America’s manufacturing sector in the late nineteenth century. In order to stay relevant to modern society, the area has managed to incorporate contemporary and ancient elements into their celebrations. Last week, the Scranton Iron Furnace Bonfire festivities celebrating Halloweeen were held.

 

The news news clip below highlights the importance of the Halloween festival as it relates to the Scranton area. By incorporating the Iron Furnace historical site for Halloween, one is reminded of the Celtic culture that its once bustling workers have contributed in addition to their dedication to America’s once vital industry. A reminder of why we still celebrate Halloween in today's world.

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