With Halloween having passed us, and with Christmas on the horizon, it is interesting to examine its history and how it has become a modern commercialised holiday.
Since mid-September, every supermarket in Britain has been slowly filled with various essential Halloween supplies. This is impossible to miss: sweets, pumpkins, witches’ broomsticks, and fake spiders webs all in one small Tesco. Yet this is all a great change from the original Celtic festival that Halloween grew from. Some view this modern commercialisation of Halloween as yet another capitalist betrayal of tradition, nevertheless, it can also be seen as a harmless holiday for anyone to enjoy, regardless of its evolution.
Halloween dates back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, over 2,000 years ago. This festival marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, furthermore, it was believed that this was also the time that the barrier between our world and the world of the ghosts was at its thinnest. It was therefore believed that ghosts could travel from their world into ours. Therefore, in order to ensure the survival of the family and livestock throughout winter people would leave out offerings of food, drink, or a proportion of their crops to appease them. However, Samhain was Christianised by the early church: ‘All Hallow’s Day’ was a holy Christian day, and ‘All Hallow’s Eve’ was the early version of our modern Halloween.
By the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, All Hallow’s Eve began to become more recognisable as our current celebration. The idea of ghosts being able to cross into the land of the living remained, and children would go from house to house with masks or painted faces threatening to do mischief if not appeased, the past version of ‘trick or treat’. ‘Soulers’ would go from parish to parish begging the rich for food or money in return for prayer, and mummers would wear costumes and go from house to house requesting food.
Both of these link to the modern tradition of going between houses getting sweets or other treats, although the practice has become increasingly commercialised since the early modern period. A further important aspect is the costumes. Traditional costumes were modeled after supernatural figures such as ghosts, vampires, and witches. Though this is still a common theme today, increasingly the United Kingdom is taking after America, there being many other options available. Moving through history from its Celtic roots, Halloween has slowly been commercialising and has changed from a pagan festival to a religious occasion, to a money-making holiday, costumes being mass produced for both people and their pets.
Yet is commercialisation really a bad thing? Modern Halloween may be hugely profitable for companies around the world, but ultimately the holiday revolves around allowing both children and adults to dress up and have fun. Many do still look back at older Halloween traditions, as can be seen by the annual Edinburgh Samhain fire festival. The idea of Halloween has changed through time, and the traditions may not suit all. Those who want to celebrate the Celtic festival do have the chance, and All Hallow’s Day is still a part of the church calendar for those wishing to maintain the religious aspect. Our modern society is increasingly diverse: a Celtic festival wouldn’t fit all, and with greater religious diversity a Christian celebration would alienate many. Commercialisation may not be ideal, but we have a changing Halloween for a changing world. It may be a bit overdone but just enjoy it anyway.
Image: rescueram3 via pixabay