The Future of Halloween

October 24 2008 / by Aspirational1 / In association with Future
Category: Culture   Year: 2008   Rating: 2

Cross-posted from Forward Online

Just a quickie for fun… what is the future of Halloween?

This article from PRNewsNow points to the ongoing trend of Halloween being more of an adult celebration than a time of enjoyment for children. Reason: The “Baby Boomers,” who are the “never-grow-old” generation, have made it such, desiring to remain young and re-create the fun they had at Halloween as children. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that they are the demographic with the financial resources to generate a market for costumes, party items, decorations, food and Halloween treats, etc. As the article states:

“When it comes to retail spending and the holidays, Halloween ranks only second to Christmas. A $5 billion industry and growing, 60 percent of consumers reported taking part in some type of Halloween celebration in 2007 and spending an estimated $1.82 billion in costumes alone, according to the National Retail Federation.”

However, the present financial crisis makes it harder for “luxury items” and non-essentials to thrive; they’re always the first to go when people are hit hard in the wallet. If this economic downturn is long-term (as it appears to be), will Halloween – and possibly Christmas – return to being a family-oriented holiday that, along with other emerging social factors, works to change the fabric of society in favor of close-knit relationships? Our holidays and traditions are often an expression of the values we hold as a society, and can in turn reinforce those values. Will changing holiday traditions restore the concept of the “neighborhood” as a catalyst for social cohesion, trust, and a stability that could transform the quality of life within our cities? Without all the adult parties taking place, the inviting porch lights could be turned on again on All Hallows Eve, welcoming children and their families to make positive and relationship-building contact with one another. (This scenario has been brought to you by the unofficial organization for global resession “silver linings.”)

Immigration is another issue, having introduced differing cultural ideas into the mix of national values and traditions, and Halloween is no exception. In particular, Dia de los Muertos has become much more popular in the U.S., not only in Mexican communities, but also among the general population where there is a large concentration of Mexican immigrants. This rise in Mexican immigrants into the U.S. (and this idea can be applied to multiple issues globally) is having the effect of changing the idea of Halloween through a melding of cultural ideas into a new, hybrid holiday. Of course, many of the holidays that we celebrate today are actually hybrids already, having changed in meaning and practice over the centuries as immigrants, missionaries, and conquering armies adopted the customs of the lands and people of which they became a part:

“Tracing Halloween’s origins leads us back to the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in, with sow rhyming with cow). The Celts, living two thousand years ago and beyond in what is now the United Kingdom, Ireland, and northern France, celebrated their new year on what is to our calendars November 1st. However, their New Year festival began the day before, with the Samhain celebration. The Samhain festival honored the Celtic lord of death, signaled the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, a season of cold, darkness, and decay, and also ushered in a new Celtic year. As such, the Samhain festival was a rather big deal for the Celts. It was a harvest festival, a New Year festival, and a celebration honoring their lord of death, all wrapped into one huge event. The beginning of winter was also celebrated, but the beginning of winter is naturally connected to the end of harvest, so these two are essentially the same.

The first twist to this Autumn celebration came about 40 A.D., when the Roman Empire conquered the Celts. Two Roman Autumn festivals combined with the Celtic Samhain festival; the Feralia festival, honoring the dead, and a festival honoring the goddess of fruit and trees, Pomona. With the arrival of the Romans, the New Year aspect of the festival is dropped, as the Roman calendar has a different new year than the Celts. The Romans ruled the Celts for around four hundred years, during which time the Catholic church gained a strong hold in Europe. This had a huge impact as Europe changed from a place ruled completely by the Romans to a continent with many nations.

In the 800s A.D., the Catholic church replaced Samhain with All Saints’ Day, orginally to be celebrated on May 13th. This date was changed to Nov. 1st shortly thereafter by Pope Gregory III. In accordance with the Catholic policy of the day to incorporate pagan beliefs, ideals, and religion into the Catholic church as much as possible, the old pagan customs, traced back to the Samhain celebration, were made much a part of this holy day. Later, the Catholic church made Nov. 2nd All Souls’ Day, a day to honor the dead. As such, pagan customs of honoring the dead with sacrifices, festivals, and celebrations remain present around the same time they were first celebrated. They have simply morphed from what they were to a half-Christian, half-pagan series of celebrations. In addition, October 31st, the day before All Saints’ Day, became known as All Hallows Eve, or All Hallow e’en. From this last term, we get the modern word ‘Halloween.’ (Origins of Halloween)”

(Side note: I realize that there are vast differences in Halloween and Dia de los Muertos, so no cultural offense was intended. The loss of cultural traditions and customs is also an issue when considering the effects of globalization. My intention was to demonstrate how change takes place throughout history through cultural diffusion.)

According to the information on the Wikipedia page for Dia de los Muertos>

“In other communities, interactions between Mexican traditions and American culture are resulting in celebrations in which Mexican traditions are being extended to make artistic or sometimes political statements. For example, in Los Angeles, California, the Self Help Graphics & Art Mexican-American cultural center presents an annual Day of the Dead celebration, that includes both traditional and political elements, such as altars to honor the victims of the Iraq War highlighting the high casualty rate among Latino soldiers. An updated, inter-cultural version of the Day of the Dead is also evolving at a cemetery near Hollywood. There, in a mixture of Mexican traditions and Hollywood hip, conventional altars are set up side-by-side with altars to Jayne Mansfield and Johnny Ramone. Colorful native dancers and music intermix with performance artists, while sly pranksters play on traditional themes.”

In effect, Halloween will continue to change to reflect the cultures, influeces, social issues, and global shifts – just as it always has.

An interesting article from the Herald Sun in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA notes that the famous University of North Carolina party that takes place in the downtown area has a negative financial and property impact on local businesses. Officials in that city have gathered to discuss the future of the Halloween party, hoping to create a safer environment that weeds out visitors to the city who are not university students. Again, a desire to return to a safer and more community related expression of the holiday, albeit for financial reasons rather than social ones.

Ah, candy! I would be amiss if I left out this important part of Halloween. When my children come back from their “trick or treat” haul, they usually have about 3 months worth of candy each. (By my estimation, not theirs!) No worry, though; I don’t think anyone forgot about the sweets. According to Brandweek,

“Kohl’s, Mars, Lillian Vernon and Ballard Designs are among the companies looking for an early boost from this profitable holiday. Halloween generated an estimated $5.07 billion in sales last year, per the National Retail Federation, Washington… In the candy aisle, Mars jumped ahead of rival Hershey and soon-to-be subsidiary Wm. Wrigley Jr. by launching last week. The Web site, created by G2, New York, features an instant-win sweepstakes with chances to win $1 million and Visa gift cards… Despite the economy, the National Confectioners Assn. projects Halloween candy sales will increase by 2.8% to $2.265 billion this year.”

Lastly, in a nod to the recently coined phrase “Pornification of America,” it could also be said that there is a “Horrorfication of America.” According to an article from the Oregon Daily Emerald,

“An article titled “Violence Exposure in Real-life, Video Games, Television, Movies, and the Internet: Is There Desensitization?” by Jeanne Funk from the University of Toledo says a possible reason for the increase in gore and violence is that the American populace suffers from hypoesthesia. Because of a growing level of desensitization, the envelope needs to be pushed and a higher level of stimulation must be sustained or exceeded. This theory is used to explain why people are seeing an increasing amount of sex and violence in the media.

‘I think we are people and a generation and a country of extremism,’ says Brendan Nieubuurt, an English graduate. ‘We want to be shocked and to keep pushing the limits.’”

In other words, we certainly haven’t lost our taste for being scared. But our monsters now tend to reflect the modern dangers of everyday life and the violence we see ourselves inflicting on one another around the world moreso than the fictituous characters from yester-year such as Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, or The Wolfman. Even horror movies such as “Quarantine,” with the recurring theme of “Zombies Gone Wild” is playing on our fear of pandemics and global disease control, something much more realistic (and scary) than “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.” It may be that we are not only desensitized to images of horror, but that we are more aware of the many dangers that face humanity and or collective future.

On that note… Happy Halloween!

Image: Just-Us-3 (Flickr)

Comment Thread (1 Response)

  1. Pretty interesting read. You don’t necessarily think about all the aspects of Halloween. Usually when people think of Halloween, they think it’s a pseudo-holiday that all about candy, childish behavior, etc.

    Posted by: christinep   October 28, 2008
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