Halloween, on October 31, is a very ancient holiday that originated in the Celtic regions of the British Isles in the area now known as Ireland. It was a time for celebrating harvest time and preparation for a long, hard winter. In the 7th century, the Catholic Church created All Saints Day or All Hallows Day on November 1 as a time to remember the people who had died during the previous year. Thus, October 31 became All Hallows Eve – Halloween.
In the 1850’s hundreds of thousands of Irish people immigrated to the United States, bringing with them this ancient holiday. Sometime in the late 1800’s, wearing costumes and “trick or treating” became a part of the holiday. Now, it is a holiday that has two parts: One for adults and one for children. Adults have parties at which they dress in fun, sexy or scary costumes and for that one evening, they are able to live out a “fantasy”.
In order to understand why so many American adults celebrate Halloween, it is necessary to understand the American value of the Protestant work ethic. This term was coined by Max Weber, a sociologist, to describe a deep value in American culture that ties work to a spiritual identity. In other words, hard work is necessary to be successful and worldly success is a sign that the individual has found favor with God. Thus, deep in the American persona, is the idea that work is more than simply making money; it is also what makes the individual a good person. Any rest from work is essentially a rest from being good. So a nationally sanctioned holiday for “fun” and fantasy is of real benefit in American culture.
The traditional colors for Halloween are orange and black. The traditional symbols are things such as witches, spiders, spider webs, pumpkins and other things. At Halloween parties, food may mimic frightening objects such as “finger” cookies, “blood” punch and “brains”. For Americans, these things are not really frightening; they think they are interesting. Adults and children dress up in costumes; there are no rules about what kind of costumes. They can be frightening or fun or sexy. Some examples are doctors, pirates, monsters or kittens. Halloween is a time for games and “pretending”.
While adults have parties with special food and decorations, children have their own activity in the early evening hours. Children dress up and go from house to house doing an activity called “trick or treating”. At each house, they knock on the door and say “trick or treat” – meaning give me a treat like candy or fruit or I will trick you! People buy lots of candy or fruit to give to the children. The children carry special bags or plastic pumpkins to collect the candy. People use the light at the front of the house as a signal to the children. If they have candy, they leave their door light on; if they have no candy, they leave the house darkened.
Here is a dialogue about trick or treating. (Halloween afternoon)
Joe: What time do you think the trick or treaters will come?
Sue: Oh, they’ll probably start coming any time now. It’s already 5:30. I’m excited to see the children.
Joe: Me too. I hope we have enough candy for them.
Joe: (Excitedly) They’re here. I’ve got the candy.
Sue: (Opens the door) Hello children.
Children: (Shouting) Trick or treat!
Sue: Oh aren’t you cute? You must be a spaceman and you must be a ballerina.
Joe: Here’s some candy for you. (He puts a piece of candy in each child’s bag.)
Children: Thank you!!