Hallowe’en (yes, it has an apostrophe; get over it) is one of my least favorite holidays. Personally, I find it serves no real purpose other than to sell costumes, candy, and (sometimes) cards. Oh, and don’t forget all the decorations. I’m glad to see Blogger hasn’t modified their logo in any way for Hallowe’en, though the Google search engine, Technorati, and FriendFeed (to name a few; the last one’s a private beta right now) all have Hallowe’en-themed modifications in place right now, to my dismay.
So what’s the big deal with this Hallowe’en holiday, anyway? Where did it come from, and why do we celebrate it? Who came up with the idea of “Trick or Treat”? Perhaps Wikipedia can answer at least one of those questions.
Hallowe’en originated from an old Celtic holiday called Samhain, which celebrated the end of the harvest with a feast. The word also refers to November in the Gaelic languages. Samhain is still celebrated by several cultures, and has branched out to become the secular Hallowe’en and the Catholic All Souls’ Day.
Hallowe’en itself is a contraction of “All-hallow-even,” as it is the eve of “All Hallows’ Day” (now also known as “All Saints’ Day”). It is based on Celtic views that the day on which the holiday is celebrated is one of the few days of the year when spirits can make contact with the physical world. The trick-or-treating tradition, interestingly, while similar to the older Irish traditions of guising, seems to have originated in North America in the last century.
The holiday, in its North American form, at any rate, seems to have been rather modified to be a treat for kids (yes, I know, ouch) rather than a holiday proper. With people spending on the order of $5,000,000,000 on costumes (in 2006), at an average cost of about $40 a costume (in 2005), the holiday is more commercial than anything else.
I don’t see it as much different from Christmas, for which the commercialization starts the day after Thanksgiving, or sooner. I might be a little happier if holidays like Hanukkah and Ramadan got such attention, too, though commercialization would be just as unwelcome (to me) on those holidays as it is on Hallowe’en and Christmas…