SUNDAY, OCTOBER 31: Light up those jack-o’-lanterns and get your candy ready—it’s Halloween! (Wikipedia has details.) What began as a festival of the dead for the ancient Celts has transformed into today’s costume-clad, spooky secular holiday. So if you live in the United States, Canada, Ireland or the UK, it’s All Hallows’ Eve—and time to get haunting! (Halloween traditions are beginning to spread to other areas around the world, too. Read more at the American Folklife Center, part of the Library of Congress.)
Halloween actually began almost 2,000 years ago, in a somewhat chilling festival known as Samhain. (The History Channel’s interactive site has lots of Halloween fun facts.) The ancient Celts recognized the New Year as Nov. 1, and so the day before—Oct. 31—marked the “death” of the harvest season and the beginning of a long, difficult winter season. Since death was such a dominant part of this festival, the pagan Celts held that the barriers between the world of the dead and the world of the living were open tonight. So, rent a scary Halloween movie tonight! These ancient people believed that when the dead returned to the world of the living, the spirits would sometimes possess people and stir up trouble.
If you’re in the mood to dress up, that tradition also has ancient roots, too. It’s believed that some Celts would dress up in elaborate costumes to scare away the spirits of the dead on Oct. 31. (If you’re hosting a party, check out ideas at HGTV.com. And kids—get your ideas at Kaboose.com!)
This festival of the dead began to change when Christian missionaries arrived in the towns of the Celts, and in attempts to change Samhain practice, the missionaries began spreading word of a following “redeeming” day on Nov. 1. The Feast of All Saints continues to be marked by the Western Christian Church; if pagans wanted to honor the spirits of the dead, the Christian missionaries would continue that practice—only now, through a more holy day that honored the souls of the faithful departed. (If you’re a Catholic and wondering how to view demons, psychics, ghosts and more, learn more at AmericanCatholic.com or FishEaters.com.)
Not all Christians believe that Halloween should be celebrated at all—but among those who do, some are encouraging their towns to move the festivities to Oct. 30 this year! In towns like Benton and Bryant, both in Arkansas, Halloween celebrations are being moved to Saturday so as not to interfere with church attendance on Sunday. It’s a good thing that these towns aren’t eliminating Halloween events altogether. Many local businesses depend on it. According to the National Retail Federation, it’s expected that consumers will spend around $5.8 billion on Halloween-related items. (TheStreet has more.) If it’s the recession you’re worried about, don’t be spooked by that, either—Halloween spending has increased by almost 1 billion from last year.