The history of Halloween is based on a variety of spiritual and cultural performances: from mediums to masks, weʼve been getting creepy on October 31st for a long time. In the last 75 years, however, this particular festivity has evolved into an explosion of costumes and candy. Weʼve nixed the spiritual when it comes to celebrating Halloween because weʼve also become less engaged with death and mortality. Our modern approach to Halloween is indicative of a larger cultural shift in how we handle death as a society. While itʼs much more fun and a lot less challenging to don a sexy condiment suit or awkward celebrity costume than it is to face our own inevitable ends, Halloween has become a testament to our discomfort with our own mortality.
Halloweenʼs origin has been connected to the pagan festival of Samhain, which may be as old as the first century: the bronze tablets inscribed with the lunar-based Celtic Coligny calendar can be dated to this era but it is unclear whether Samhain begun at this exact time.1 The Coligny calendar does show, however, that this seasonal transition was worth noting, and was of importance. Samhain began at sundown on October 31st and lasted through the first of November. This holiday represented the end of the growing season and was marked with sacrificial fires and prayers where the living honored their deceased ancestors. This celebration and ritual blossomed into a large observance of both the living and the dead: harvesting the last of the living crops and preparing for the seasonal death of the earth, slaughtering livestock, and honoring the dead in social gatherings. Children were able to partake by dressing up in costumes and traveling through their community, offering to pray for the dead in exchange for small treats, such as nuts or fruits. This particular day was also the time in which the barrier between the living and the dead was supposed to be the thinnest. A spiritually-heightened evening laid the framework for the creepy vibe that still holds strong today, even if we donʼt share this belief system.