Halloween's Mysterious Origins

November 9, 2018

Each year, on October 31, Halloween is widely celebrated in the United States. According to the National Retail Federation, 175 mill

 

ion Americans spend over 9 billion dollars annually on Halloween costumes, candy, and decorations. Halloween is the second highest grossing holiday after Christmas. On average, Americans spend $86.79 per capita on Halloween. But, where did Halloween, also known as All Hallow’s Eve, come from and what is its true meaning?


The celebration of Halloween, a contraction of two words - hallow and evening or holy and evening - dates back roughly two thousand years.  The Celts held annual festivals in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and France called Samhain, named after the Celtic Lord of Death. The Celts deeply believed that during the time period October 31st to November 2nd that souls from the past would be allowed back to revisit the earth. Celts would light bonfires and dress up in scary costumes to ward off these evil spirits.  They also offered burnt pagan sacrifices of crops, animal and even humans, to ward off ghosts who might seek to do harm to them. The festival of Samhain marked the beginning of the long, cold winter when many people would die from disease suffered in harsh conditions.  
Over a thousand years later, with the spread of Christianity,  Pope Gregory III (731-741) officially decreed that November 1 was the official date to celebrate all the Catholic saints, martyrs and loved ones. November 1 became known as All Hallows Day or All Saints Day. The night before, All Hallows Eve, continued to be celebrated with parties and rituals. Today’s Halloween celebrations still share some common elements with Celtic Samhain festivities - lighting bonfires, carving pumpkins or turnips and going from house to house to collect treats.
Halloween is also still religiously celebrated all over the world, especially in predominantly Catholic countries. Traditional church services are held in Northern Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, France, Portugal and Spain on  All Hallows Eve. In Europe it is tradition for families to visit their loved ones’ graves, to remember them and to deliver meals and gifts.  
City and Country is a secular school which means that it does not allow celebration at school of any religious activities or commercial holidays.  like Valentine’s Day or Halloween. Even though Halloween may seem like a harmless American tradition, “any celebration is still not tolerated”, said Michele Bloom, Middle/Upper School Principal. She explained that wearing a costume is counter productive and distracting to groups. “Kids can go trick or treating after school”, Michele exclaimed. Jordis Rosberg, research librarian and Director of Archives, said that C&C has never celebrated Halloween. However, according to Sarah Whittier, XIIsS, the Christian holiday of Christmas used to be celebrated at C&C. Students baked Christmas cookies and sang hymns at school, even though most of her class was Jewish. This shows that C&C used to follow traditions that greater America observes. Nowadays C&C’s administration is committed to not observing any religious  holidays or any commercial holidays at school. Apart from avoiding the disruption it causes to the school day their goal is also to ensure they do not appear to officially favor one religion, or belief system, over another.

 

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