COMMENTARY: The history of Halloween

October 26, 2020 /

Initially, Halloween was known as All Hallows Eve. All Hallows’ Eve was celebrated the day after Sahmain. On Sahmain, the Celtic people celebrated the beginning of winter or their New Year. The following day, during All Hallows’ Eve they celebrated and  honored dead souls.

According to Druidism, the god Sahmain would roam the Earth on All Hallows’ Eve. So on this night, people celebrated the spirits of their gods and loved ones, as they believed the spirits roamed the Earth every year on this day. Since then, the traditions of Halloween have heavily evolved.

Now, Halloween activities include trick-or-treating, costumes, pumpkin carving and much more. While in current times, Halloween is also celebrated by adults, it feels as if the main purpose of celebration is for children. However, Halloween was initially created and mostly celebrated amongst adults. Over the years, Halloween has changed and the history of it seems to have been forgotten. 

The celebration of Samhain was celebrated amongst Celtic people. This celebration started amongst the islands of Europe, and later spread across the map. The traditions for this celebration were burning crops and animals while they dressed in costumes that consisted of animal skins and straw. These costumes are known as skeklers. They felt that destroying these crops and animals was their symbol of sacrifice for the Celtic gods. The reason for this was because Sahmain marked the beginning of winter. This was the whole purpose of Sahmain. 

From the beginning of Halloween to our current times, not only have the traditions changed, but the costumes as well. In the early 20th century, racism was heavily implemented in people’s costumes, as people did Blackface, Redface, Brownface, and Yellowface. These costumes were popular amongst white people as they wore these to ridicule and insult these people. They exaggerated features and colored in their faces as a way to mock them. 

Due to white supremacy and colonialism during these times, it was not surprising to see these insulting costumes. Fortunately, these costumes are not as common as they were during those times, and there has been great diversity in costumes such as cartoon characters, movie stars, and latex masks. 

The greatest diversity in costumes was amongst women and LGBT community. During the 1960’s women costumes were heavily influenced by movie stars. This provoked a wave of feminism, as they felt inspired to wear empowering, revealing costumes similar to the movie stars they would see on television. 

Also, in the 20th century, the LGBT community was heavily oppressed. Being attracted to their same sex was illegal, and they faced possibilities of getting arrested for simply expressing themselves. On Halloween however, the LGBT community could freely and publicly dress as drag queens or could cross-dress. Women and LGBT could openly dress in revealing and sexual costumes as they pleased, which created a great influence during these times of sexual revolution. It prompted change in fashion ideals and stereotypes.

In the 1990’s, stores began inputting Halloween sections within their businesses. They sold house decorations, costumes, and more. Now, Halloween is so widely celebrated, so much so that of all the candy sold annually in the United States, one-fourth of it is purchased for the celebration of Halloween. 

Evidently, from the times that Halloween originated to now, there has been a great difference and evolution in costumes, traditions, celebrations, and more. Looking back at the history of Halloween, there is much to be proud of regarding the expansion of diversity, evolution of costumes, and new traditions.