Get your costume ready! Halloween is only a few short days away, and for Americans that means parties, festivals, parades, candy, and maybe even a few tricks. At this point you have probably noticed that your host neighborhood has begun to take on a playfully ghastly appeal, with people adorning their homes with carved pumpkins and ghosts and skeletons. Although it may seem strange to decorate one’s house with such gruesome objects, what most people don’t even realize is that they are actually participating in the result of cultural exchange. Halloween as we know it began as a European tradition that dates back to the 1500’s and was carried over to the States by our more recent ancestors.
It is a widely held belief that the modern Halloween traditions of carving pumpkins, wearing disguises, begging for treats, and practicing mischief are all remnants of Celtic and Christian rituals. The Celtic rituals were performed in the fall after harvest was complete, and symbolized a time of the year when the earth was caught between the world of the living and the world of the dead. In later years, Christians, in honor of deceased saints and faithful followers, would celebrate All Saints Day, the preceding evening being titled All Hallows Eve, during which children and poor people would dress in guise and beg for food. Today, host families and their exchange students across the country celebrate by carving pumpkins, dressing in costumes, and lots of other fun and spooky seasonal activities.
American Halloween traditions were carried over to the United States during the large influx of European immigrants in the early 1900, when many Irish and Scottish were trying to escape the Great Potato Famine that was decimating food supplies in their home countries. The practice of carving pumpkins comes also from this culture, whose people were accustomed to carving turnips and placing candles inside. Because pumpkins were easier to carve and more abundant, the pumpkin took the turnip’s place and became the traditional symbol for Halloween in the U.S. If you are interested in learning more about the story of the Jack O’ Lantern, click on this link.
Today, many of the celebrated Halloween traditions include trick or treating, bonfires, costumes, parties and games. Kids will flock to the streets dressed as witches, superheroes, ghosts and pirates, knocking on doors for candy and arranging games like bobbing for apples. If you are new to American culture, all of this may seem odd to you, but for the most part it is all in good fun. Check out some of the holiday fun from ISE exchange students and their host families below.
Have a safe and happy Halloween!