Halloween: Holiday with Ancient Origins Celebrates Life
By Jane Morse | Staff Writer | 15 September 2011
Washington — As the northern hemisphere begins its wintery sleep and the nights grow longer, the spirits of the dead seem eerily near to the living each October 31, Halloween.
That’s when Americans kick up their heels and party!
While not an official holiday, Halloween is much beloved by children in the United States, for whom the day is a chance to don costumes — often depicting ghosts, monsters and other “supernatural” creatures — and to collect candy and other treats from adults. Plenty of adults also celebrate the occasion by attending costume parties, although they often dress as celebrities, political candidates and other public figures.
Halloween is one of the oldest holidays still observed in the Western world. Once the most important day of the year for the ancient Celtic peoples, Samhain, as it was known then, was believed to be a time when the souls of the dead were set free for one night to roam the earth. Bonfires were lit to help guide these souls back to the land of the dead and to frighten them away from the living. Offerings of food were made to appease potentially threatening spirits.
With the spread of Christianity, the souls of saints and all the dead were remembered on November 1 and 2. October 31 became known as “All Hallows’ Eve,” from which “Halloween” is derived.
These days, according to the most recent Census Bureau estimates, some 41 million children dressed as otherworldly creatures visit homes in their neighborhoods, calling “Trick or Treat!” Those within give out candy to appease these modern “apparitions.”
Many youth forgo candy in favor of Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF, collecting money in small boxes distributed by the United Nations Children’s Fund. American children have collected nearly $164 million this way, with the proceeds funding education, immunization and other programs in the developing world.
THE BUSINESS OF HALLOWEEN
“In recent years, Halloween has provided a welcome break from reality, allowing many Americans a chance to escape from the stress the economy has put on their family and incomes,” NRF Chief Executive Officer Matthew Shay said on the federation’s website.
A survey by the federation found that slightly more than four out of 10 Americans wore costumes for Halloween and 12 percent dressed up their pets as well. Young adults in the 18-to-24-year-old range were the most likely to participate in Halloween activities, with 70 percent saying they dress in costume.
Giving and receiving candy is an essential part of Halloween celebrations. Over 72 percent of Americans handed out candy for Halloween in 2010, according to the NRF. The National Confectioners Association reports that Halloween is by far the candy industry’s biggest candy-selling holiday, contributing to the 25 pounds per capita annual consumption of candy by Americans.
Candy corn, a sugary confection made to look like a corn kernel with bands of yellow, orange and white, has been popular in the United States since the 1880s and is closely associated with Halloween. Although 35 million pounds of candy corn were produced in 2010, chocolate candies were the most popular for Halloween — bringing a sweet ending to a spooky evening!