I’ll openly admit I’ve had a bit of writer’s block this past month. It’s not that I haven’t had any ideas for posts, it’s that I’ve had trouble completing them enough to want to post them. However, with Halloween nearly upon us, and several non-US readers, this seems like a good opportunity to discuss Halloween in the USA.
Halloween (also known as All Hallow’s Eve and All Saints Eve) is actually the first day of a three-day holiday called Hallowmas, (All Hallow’s Eve, All Saint’s Day, All Soul’s Day). However many households in the US only celebrate this first day, and almost entirely without celebrating the lives of dead family members. Death, is in fact, is petty much taboo in the US. You don’t talk about it, you don’t celebrate it.
(A three-day Christian holiday is also called a Triduum, by the way, in reference to the Holy Trinity.)
Now, don’t misunderstand; there are certain cultural and religious groups within US communities may go on to celebrate the second and even third day. Many Latino families will celebrate a version of All Saint’s Day called the Day of the Dead, in which offerings are made to dead loved ones. (In some parts of Central and South America, the Day of the Dead will be celebrated for several days, and even weeks.) But for many US citizens, death is simply something they deny.
A growing trend with young adults however is, Death Parties, where over dinner, they simply discuss what would happen if they, or some else died. No doubt many of these adults were children/teens in the late 80s and early 90s, when Goths wore black and talked about death and monsters, rather than wearing pink and talking about drugs and cartoons. But I’m getting off track… back to Halloween.
So if US citizens don’t celebrate the dead, what do they do?
In modern times, Halloween has become a night for kids to dress up and travel door to door asking for handout of treats (despite all the warnings not to take candy from strangers the rest of the year), called Trick-or-Treating, and people of all ages attend parties. Many adults regard Halloween as kid’s holiday and don’t bother to celebrate at all apart from possibly handing over obligatory treats so their houses don’t get egged. At some point prior to Halloween most families with kids, and some without, carve pumpkins into Jack-O’-Lanterns.
Both Trick-or-Treat and Jack-O’-Lanterns hail back to the traditions of ghosts and by proxy, evil spirits, entering the world at midnight when All Saints Day begins. Jack-O’-Lanterns, an originally Irish tradition with an interesting story attached about a drunkard named Jack (though I like the Dutch version better, where Jack isn't drunk, but so Evil that even the devil doesn’t like him). Jack-O’-Lanterns were originally carved from turnips, but pumpkins have become the vegetable of choice in a land that once had no turnips, because they are big, easier to cut, and almost hallow.
Trick-or-Treat on the other hand evolved from young adults dressing up to snatch treats that were left out to distract ghosts and ghouls, and playing pranks on neighbors. I have seen one older photograph where pranksters managed to move a farmer’s car onto his roof. Some disassembly is suspected, of course, this was back when anyone could disassemble and reassemble a car, now computerized components and special tools would make this very difficult.
Halloween parties were also, originally an adult event.