The purpose of Halloween: old tradition, present change

Halloween is the second largest commercial holiday in present-day America. Not only is it the second largest, but it also brings $6.9 billion to the nation. It seems that the purpose of Halloween today is to cash in some money for businesses across the U.S., but what was the original purpose of Halloween, and what should it’s purpose be now?

Around 2,000 years ago, the Celts, who were a collection of ethnic groups of European identity, celebrated the new year on Nov. 1, which was the day that marked the end of the summer and harvest, and marked the beginning of winter. Since the winter was dark and associated with death, the Celts celebrated the festival of Samhain on Oct. 31, the day before the new year. The festival of Samhain was believed to thin the boundary between the living and the dead so that the dead could return to Earth.

That said, death and darkness are scary things to think about. Especially 2,000 years ago, when much fewer people survived the winter. The dead returning to Earth made it easy for Celtic priests to make future predictions on how this upcoming winter was going to be. This gave the feeling of comfort and stability to the Celts with knowing they were to survive the harsh conditions they were about to experience.

Furthermore, Celtic priests built large bonfires and people would burn animals and crops as sacrifices to the Celtic gods. People would wear costumes during this celebration and try to tell the fortunes of one another.

The American version of Halloween originated from the beliefs of the Celts and Native Americans. Children began to have little parties to celebrate harvest, like the Celts, to share stories of the dead, dance, sing and tell fortunes and ghost stories. No sacrifices were made at this point, but mischief -making became an integral part of Halloween. This new version of Halloween spread to the nation when settlers from Europe started to arrive in the new world.

As time progressed, Halloween started to lose its spiritual ties. In the late 1800s, Americans wanted to get rid of all the frightening or abnormal elements to make the holiday more about family and community bonding. Ultimately, this is when the connection between the dead and the living was lost and these efforts detached the holiday from its initial roots. At this point, people started celebrating Halloween through parties, which is the most popular way to celebrate the holiday today.

Trick-or-treating became the go-to activity for Halloween in America. According to an article on, “Americans began to dress up in costumes and go house to house asking for food or money, a practice that eventually became today’s ‘trick-or-treat’ tradition. Young women believed that on Halloween they could divine the name or appearance of their future husband by doing tricks with yarn, apple parings or mirrors.”

The original purpose of Halloween was to connect with the dead spiritually and religiously. And as Americans have culturally changed that tradition, the purpose of Halloween has morphed. Now, the purpose of Halloween is different for everyone depending on how old someone is.

For kids, it’s to find the coolest Halloween costume that their parents will let them wear, show that costume off, go to the biggest neighborhoods and get as much candy as they possibly can to go back home and get the wildest sugar rush of the year.

For teenagers, it’s to accept the fact that people will get annoyed if they show up to their house in a costume asking for candy, so instead they binge-watch the “Scream” series with their friends, family or significant other, because being scared on Halloween is tradition.

For adults, it’s to go to a Halloween party, or multiple Halloween parties, dressed in something super cool or scary, to have as much fun as possible with their best friends.

Everyone likes dressing up as their favorite meme, movie character or celebrity. And everyone enjoys getting candy on Halloween. Anyone who likes Halloween also wants to be a little scared on this holiday, obviously. All in all, the purpose of Halloween for anyone of any age in this present day, is to have fun.