October 31 is a highly anticipated day for exchange students, who can’t wait to celebrate “American Halloween.” Like many US traditions, however, the American celebration of Halloween is actually a blend of historical and cultural influences, none of which originated in America! And interestingly, the “Americanized” Halloween has in turn gone global, sharing the traditions of costumes, candy, and trick-or-treating in many westernized pockets across the globe.
In a way, this mash-up holiday embodies the very goal of cultural exchange: to borrow from and build upon one another. It’s akin to a blended family, if you will: a little “yours,” a little “mine,” and a blended result we can share as “ours.”
Halloween Origins Abroad
Did you know that Halloween is just as “Irish” as St. Patrick’s Day?
During the Celtic festival of Samhain, the dead were said to walk the Earth, so the Celts would wear costumes as to either blend in or at least avoid being recognized by evil spirits. To celebrate, Druids constructed enormous bonfires (sound familiar?) where villagers would gather to burn crops and/or animal sacrifices to the deities, often wearing costumes of animal heads and skins.
All Saints Day
After the Roman conquest of the Celtic land, two festivals were blended with Celtic Samhain – Feralia, a day commemorating the passing of the dead, and a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple, which likely explains the tradition of “bobbing” for apples that is still practiced today!
Cultural Exchange at its best!
This brief highlight reel of world history reveals that we owe the fun of Halloween to a continual process of growth, adaptation, and change. And isn’t that the truth for our entire culture as well? Join us as we celebrate not only Halloween’s fun festivities, but the years of organic cultural exchange that delivered it to our doorstep.