One need not be a chamber to be haunted

One need not be a house;

The brain has corridors surpassing

Material place.

Emily Dickinson

Why do we still have Halloween, The Day of The Dead and All Saint’s Day Traditions?

We all like to celebrate, and we all like to take part in events that make life more interesting, funny, and exciting. The traditions that we continue to celebrate today have all been changed by the passage of time and the actions of people. Why do we still celebrate Halloween and what difference does it make in our lives?

The days between 31st October and 2nd November are celebrated by people all around the world, with small differences regarding the specific date of the celebration and the name associated with it. The more we know about the origin and the socio-cultural aspects of Halloween, the more positively we may experience or regard it.

The tradition of Halloween began around 4,000 BC in Ireland, with the Autumn festival of Samhain. Samhain was a Celtic celebration held on the first day of the 11th month. The word is composed of: sam which means summer, and fuin which means end. So, on the 1st of November, Samhain celebrations would start at sunset. This became known as All Hallows Eve or the night before All Hallows.

Through celebrating the end of the lighter half of the year and the beginning of the darker one -the inter-season- Celts regarded Samhain as a spiritual and magical time when a door was opened between our world and the otherworld. The fairies, the puka, the dead, and other spirits could come and walk quite freely along the living. It is believed today that, to protect themselves from the evil spirits and to keep them away from their homes, the Celts created costumes and masks. They also used to leave carved and lit pumpkins or turnips with menacing faces on their doorsteps for extra protection.

From Celtic times to the present, Halloween, All Hallows Eve, or The Day of the Dead continues to be part of our lives. Over the years, Halloween has embraced other meanings, becoming somewhat detached from the original one. Exploring how people around the world celebrate this event may help us understand the present and build the future.

Celebrations Around the World

  • Halloween in the USA is celebrated on the 31st of October and, even if it is nowadays detached from its original meaning, has its roots in the Celtic celebrations. In the second half of the 19th century, the USA became a home for millions of immigrants from all around the world, and a significant part of them were Irish. The Irish contributed to the popularisation of Halloween in American society. Very quickly, this celebration became national and people all over the country started to dress up in costumes and went from house to house- trick or treating as we would know it today- initially asking for food such as eggs, nuts, and apples, and later asking for ‘candy’ or money.
  • Day of the Dead and All Saints Day in Western and Eastern European countries are celebrated on the 1st and 2nd of November. During the eighth century, the Catholic Church named the first day of November as All Saints Day. This was a day to remember all the saints and martyrs, known or unknown, throughout Christian history – and was an attempt to replace Halloween. The 2nd of November is a commemoration for loved ones, a time to pray for their souls and to light candles in churches and cemeteries.
  • El Dia de los Muertos in Mexico – The Day of the Dead. This celebration starts at midnight on October 31st and continues until the 2nd of November. Although both Halloween and The Day of the Dead relate to death, there is one main difference: when considering Halloween, death is perceived as something that we should be afraid of. For The Day of the Dead, death is celebrated, and it is the memories of those who have died that are most important.

There is one thing we should keep in mind regardless of whether we are discussing Halloween, All Saints Day, or The Day of the Dead: birth and death are a part of life, and the way we relate to them makes a significant difference in the way we live our lives. It seems understandable that from ancient times people have felt the need to explore death to control the fear of it, the fear of the unknown.

Samhainophobia – Fear of Halloween

While some of us celebrate Halloween in one way or another, others have a fear of it. The fear of Halloween is known as Samhainophobia. So why might some people fear Halloween and where does this fear come from? Possible explanations of this kind of phobia (phobia: an irrational fear that interferes with day-to-day life) are religious reasons, myths, superstitious beliefs, or psychological issues. According to Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), psychiatrist and founder of psychoanalysis- phobias should be considered as displaced fears and conflicts. Freud believed everyone had a personality and defense mechanisms. These defense mechanisms protect our ‘ego’ from overwhelming anxiety. According to John B. Watson (1878-1958), a psychologist and the founder of behaviourism – a school of psychology focusing on how behaviours are learned and influenced by the environment – phobias can be learned. Other research attempted to find biological causes of phobias, showing that genes may play a significant role in some cases.

In many cases, Samhainophobia is accompanied by other phobias such as the fear of ghosts, fear of witchcraft, and fear of darkness. If you have a fear or phobia and can’t cope with it by yourself, please read our article on fear, or contact us for a free consultation. We can offer you support with anxiety and/or phobias via counselling, psychotherapy or Phobia Therapy.

To summarize, undoubtedly we all have fears. The triggers for these fears are, most of the time, outside our control and may be difficult to understand. So be it Halloween, All Hallows Eve or The Day of the Dead, these celebrations all tell us about death and give us an insight into how we may address it. Our Halloween traditions may allow us the chance to confront death, take it less seriously or consider our own thoughts and feelings towards it. It is also a chance for us to celebrate our loved ones who are no longer with us. These are all very good reasons to celebrate Halloween. After all, death, like birth, is part of the natural cycle of life.

Written by Sorina Oprea, Edited by Jennifer McElroy