A reminder of death
By Daily Bruin Staff
Oct. 30, 1997 9:00 p.m.
Friday, October 31, 1997
A reminder of death
HALLOWEEN: People’s perceptions of Halloween vary as much as
their costumes do
By Michelle Navarro
Daily Bruin Contributor
It is the night when Linus Van Pelt stays up to wait for the
Great Pumpkin, when black cats lurk the foggy streets, when
wart-nosed witches fly past the moon, when the decrepit dead return
to haunt the living and when costumed children demand candy from
their neighbors – it’s Halloween night.
Images like these comprise today’s definition of Halloween,
where houses lit by carved jack-o-lanterns greet candy-craved
children, as they run up the doorstep, armed with pillow cases and
bags to collect the cellophane-wrapped treasures. However, this
wasn’t always the case.
In Celtic Ireland, 5th century B.C., summer officially ended on
Oct. 31. This also signified the end of the year. Several
historical sources point to the eve of Samhain, the Celtic
equivalent of New Year’s Eve, as the origin of Halloween.
"The earliest trace (of Halloween) is the Celtic festival,
Samhain, which was the Celtic New Year," said Peter Tokofsky,
assistant professor in the department of folklore and mythology.
"It was the day of the dead, and they believed the souls of the
deceased would be available."
Exactly what the wandering dead would be available for differs
in some stories.
A few sources say that the dead returned to be entertained by
the living. So, in order to not disappoint the spirits and unleash
their wrath, people would build large bonfires to light the way and
have offerings of food and shelter for them.
Several other references claim that spirits were allowed access
to the mortal world so they might find a body to possess for the
incoming year – it was their shot at an afterlife. This also
relates to a possible origin of the tradition of dressing up in
By dressing up like witches, ghosts and goblins, villagers could
avoid being possessed. Their costumes were supposed to help scare
away the spirits or, as others relate, allow them to blend in with
Halloween also has a connection to the Catholic celebration of
"All Saints," or "All Hallows." Some say that the Church created
the holiday in an attempt to "Christianize" the already existing
However, Cindy Yoshitomi, a campus minister at the University
Catholic Center, said the act of remembering the dead around this
time of year is not exclusive, but it’s something that’s done
"All Saints’ Day is a day in church that we remember our
ancestors," Yoshitomi said. "The Catholic Church has been
celebrating it for about a thousand years. But, traditionally, many
people from all around celebrate the remembrance of their
In the Mexican culture, "El Dia de los Muertos" is a huge
celebration where people remember those who have died.
"It comes out of the Spanish tradition coming into Mexico and
from the native people celebrating their ancestors," Yoshitomi
In Great Britain, many celebrate it to "commemorate the death of
Guy Fawkes." Fawkes was accused of trying to blow up the Houses of
Parliament, on what is now Halloween. Consequently he was "hung,
drawn and quartered."
Apparently, the reason why several cultures around the world
choose the beginning of November to carry on such festivities
relates to the changing of the season.
"It’s a time of year in which the environment around us is
dying, and it’s a reminder that all of us die," Yoshitomi said.
Halloween has innumerable global and religious ties and
associations. Even symbols associated with Halloween have their own
history, such as the jack-o-lantern.
An Irish folklore tells the tale of a drunkard conveniently
named Jack. As the story goes, Jack encountered the devil a couple
times, and both times he managed to trick Satan and prevent him
from taking his soul. The last time they met, Jack arranged it so
Satan would never ask for his soul again.
When the elusive Jack eventually departed the land of the
living, he was denied access to heaven because of his "trickster"
and evil ways. Hell wouldn’t take him because the devil had agreed
to leave his soul alone. Thus Jack was forced to roam in darkness
As a final offering, the devil gave Jack a glowing coal from the
fires of hell to provide Jack with some light. To keep the wind
from blowing out the light, Jack placed the burning ember in a
turnip. Henceforth, it became a symbol of the "damned soul."
Irish villagers used this image to ward off spirits on the eve
of Samhain. When the potato famine of 1845-1850 brought Irish
immigrants to America, the traditions followed. However, the
scarcity of turnips and the abundance of pumpkins caused a switch –
creating what is known today as the jack-o-lantern.
The sights and happenings of Halloween are rich with history and
legends, but Tokofsky doesn’t think it is essential for people who
celebrate Halloween to know all about it.
"What’s more important is to look at what (Halloween) means to
people who do it today," Tokofsky said. "For most people, it has
little to do with the souls of the dead, and more with creativity
and getting to know your neighbors. Origin is interesting, but the
meaning of it is more important."
One student sees All Hallows’ Eve as a means of celebrating
"To me it’s a remembrance of my own childhood," said Theresa Yu,
a third-year English student. "It’s also a way for us to give back
to the children of now, not just with candy but with a smile."
"Children have a different life now than from what we had. A lot
of kids can’t go trick-or-treating now because of all the crime.
For those that do, we should do something special."
However, some don’t see the dark holiday as something to
An alternative view says that the "fun" traditions which many
ritually go through on Halloween aren’t as harmless as they
"That which represents Satan and his domain cannot be handled or
emulated ‘for fun.’ Such participation places you in enemy and
forbidden territory and that is dangerous ground," said Gloria
Phillips of Bay View Church in Alabama, in her essay "Halloween:
What it is from a Christian Perspective."
Jonathan Chance’s Web site, titled "Halloween, Carefree
Children’s Holiday or Demonic Day of Darkness?" says that costumes,
jack-o-lanterns, Halloween parties and trick-or-treating are all
used "by Witches and Satanists for their Demonic All Hallows’ Eve
According to Chance, by attending any festivities or getting
into the spirit of the holiday, "you are opening yourself up to
powerful Demonic forces."
Whether or not one side is more correct than the other,
Halloween has undoubtedly evolved over time. It will continue to do
so as the world in which we live also continues to change.
"A lot of it has to do with the media and with the way people’s
lives are changing," Tokofsky said. "Like the way everyone’s
worried about crime now. We’re seeing less Halloween in the streets
and more in the schools and indoors. The social situations will
change the way we celebrate. It will always change."