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The history of Halloween

Headlines have recently filtered in regarding an elementary school in Massachusetts dropping its typical Halloween costume party and picking up a “Black and Orange Spirit Day” instead. The reasoning behind this change in tradition as stated by the principle was to remain inclusive to all students and to ensure safety.

Instead of dressing up in costumes, students were encouraged to dress in black and orange colors. This raised concerns from local parents who disapproved of the political correctness being inserted into school policy regarding a holiday so popular with children. Also, some were worried this would create a ripple effect of fun events being cancelled due to being non-inclusive. With all this drama circulating around a holiday that dates back to long before political correctness and costume parties even existed, it’s important to consider the roots of Halloween, something few people understand fully.

Modern Halloween and its customs are starkly different from those of ancient Britain and Ireland. It all started with the Celtic Festival of Samhain which was observed on October 31 and was a major pagan holiday. This was meant to mark the end of the summer and new beginnings, similarly to modern day New Year’s Eve. October 31 was regarded as the day when the realm between the living and the dead is the thinnest, therefore allowing spirits to enter into our world.

The souls of the dead were believed to revisit their homes on this day along with witches, fairies, and goblins. In order to appease the wandering spirits of all kind, families would leave out food on their porch hence the origin of trick or treating. If the spirits were placated, good fortune was thought to ensue in many things including marriage, health and luck.

It is important to keep in mind this Celtic festival was a pre-Christian celebration. Christian influences would come into play much later once people were rapidly converting to the religion. Once Christianity gained popularity in the 500s, it influenced Halloween in many ways. During the early 700s, All Hallow’s Day began to be celebrated on November 1 in order to honor all departed saints. Pagan practices were blended in with this throughout many decades until All Hallow’s Eve on October 31 also became a common celebration.

On this day, people would pray for the souls still in purgatory and dress up in costumes to represent such souls on their journey to heaven. Like all holidays, Halloween has changed and shifted throughout the years. Cut to the modern day Western world, and it is viewed as a secular holiday meant for going to fun costume parties and devouring candy.

Referencing back to the elementary school’s concern with being non-inclusive, it is evident that modern-day Halloween stems from a myriad of practices and religions. It is likely that very few of us in the 21st century relate to early Irish pagan religious practices or the original Christian holiday that is All Hallow’s Eve.

The holiday has changed so much throughout the years that none of us can be included in the original intentions, leading to the conclusion that it should not be regarded as offensive. Therefore, kids should be allowed to be kids and enjoy this great holiday. After all, what other day of the year can you dress up as something completely different than yourself and it be acknowledged as socially acceptable?  

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