Lilly Kaneshige

The spooky, ancient origins of the celebration of Halloween aren't quite akin to trick-or-treating. Halloween has become more than just sweets and scares. 

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. From the sweet smell of pumpkin spice or chai floating through houses, to little children who scurry about the streets in their costumes, Halloween is a time of year that marks the transition from the pleasantries of summer to autumn. The holiday is widely celebrated across the United States, but its origins are frequently forgotten, especially on college campuses.

The tradition of Halloween dates back almost 2,000 years. It is attributed to a group called the Celts, a cultural group mostly found within Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France.

Samhain, an ancient Celtic festival, is the direct root of what we know as Halloween today. Samhain was a festival that marked the transition from the summer and the harvest to the winter. The shift also represents a time from life and rebirth, to death.

Samhain took place the night before the Celtic new year, Oct. 31, which was believed to be a time by which the line between the living and the dead was blurred, and ghosts could walk the earth once again. Spirits were thought to influence the Celtic community in many ways by causing damage to crops as well as aiding Celtic priests in foreseeing the future the prophetic images. Prophecies were heavily relied on as a mode of comfort and hope through the dark and cold months of winter.

To honor the holiday, priests would build bonfires, burning crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. People would come to the bonfires dressed in costumes of animal skins and pelts to ward off the spirits.

By around 43 A.D., the Roman empire conquered the Celtic lands and combined Samhain with two Roman holidays, the most prominent being All-Saints Day. The All-Saints Day holiday was a Christian holiday that honored the saints who martyred themselves for their faith in God. In an attempt to replace the Celtic holiday, the Roman Empire alongside the church established All Hallows eve.

People would dress up as angels or devils to represent and celebrate the teachings of the Christian church. The poor would go from door to door, offering prayers to dead relatives in exchange for soul cakes. This is a tradition called "souling," but is the ancient relative of trick-or-treating.

These traditions immigrated to the United States in what is now Maryland in the 19th century when Irish farmers came to escape the potato famine. With the Irish entered the cultural building blocks that have made our Halloween celebration what it is today.

Fast forward to today, Halloween has become one of the most beloved holiday's in America, for it is a time where mischief and play are acceptable and extreme sugar consumption is not frowned upon.

But why do we keep celebrating this holiday? Well, Halloween is an opportunity for any person to be free and to be someone else for the night. It is easy to find yourself questioning those characteristics of yourself that create individuality and uniqueness, and Halloween is a time where those questions can be put on the shelf. By allowing people to dress up in costume, and assume a different personality, it can aid in revealing why uniqueness is essential to character development.

Having one night where there is an agency to pick and choose how you act versus how others expect you to act, can purge the angst that comes with social expectation and pressure.

According to a study done by CNN, 70% of Americans celebrate Halloween each year, which demonstrates the mass scale of people to which Halloween impacts. It is vital to make time for those you care about, and costumes and candy are perfect modes of utilizing that time.

Celebrating Halloween is not just about the sweets and the ghost stories. It is about the lessons you learn and the people we surround ourselves with. Halloween is about the home we have created for ourselves, even if it is away from your real home.


Lily Kaneshige is a photographer. Follow her on Instagram: @Aka.lillyy

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