By Susan Fraser -September 23,2020
Today’s Halloween is made up of movies, candy, costumes, and parties. The entire holiday celebrates your favorite parts of pop culture. It is a day where we can dress up as anyone we want. You can hate it or love it, but Halloween is a celebration of pop culture far from its roots as a Holiday revering the dead. But how did a night of bonfires and offerings turn to a night of scary movies and gorging on candy corn? (If there is anyone who eats candy corn anymore)
The history of Halloween is like the seasonal aisle on November 1st, reduced, but like finding the last bag of Reese’s pumpkins half off, there’s some surprises. Halloween narrows down to three broad categories even today: Disguises, Offerings, and Stories.
The ancient Celts held a variety of seasonal celebrations. Samhain was situated between the fall equinox and the winter solstice around October 31. Named the fire feast, for the sacred bonfire in the middle of the community, which they would use to relight their own hearths after the celebration.
The idea of a harvest celebration honoring the dead is common. In fact, many cultures associate the two because of the seasons. For the Celts, it was the original end of the year. The dying of plants and flowers represented a metaphorical dying and rebirth of the world. The year started in darkness like the beginning of the day. This made it a natural time to contemplate one’s own mortality.
The Celts believed the barrier between the living and world of the dead was paper thin during Samhain. The souls of the dead could pass through, returning to earth and causing mischief. Legend has it they could even steal people back to the world of the dead, usually infants and children. Others cautioned to be wary of the night of Samhain, less the fairies take their souls.
During the celebration night, The Celts would leave offerings to the spirits or fairies to honor the dead and protect themselves from harm. They placed bowls of food outside their homes, and this could be the origin of Trick or Treating. The Celts wore animal skins to resemble the spirits surrounding them. These disguises confused the spirits and were designed to keep children safe from wannabe kidnapping ghosts. And though this is speculation, Samhain could’ve been a night to tell stories of the year around the heat of the sacred bonfire.
All Hallows’ Eve
Several diverse ancient groups also held harvest festivals, often honoring the dead among them. The vast spread of the Roman Empire made various regions’ cultural traditions relevant on a global scale. Once Rome converted to Christianity, this new religion spread like wildfire. One way the early church managed conversion on a large scale was to incorporate many of these ancient festivals.
In the 8th Century, Pope Gregory III created November 1st as All Saints’ Day, a day to celebrate saints and martyrs. A few hundred years later, the church added All Souls’ Day on November 2nd. Experts believe this was designed to replace the Celtic feast of Samhain, which was traditionally held on October 31st. The combined celebration was referred to as All Hallows’ Day. The day before became “All Hallows’ Eve”, eliminating Samhain and making room for the shortened Halloween in time. These celebrations centered around remembering and giving thanks to the dead through various including telling stories, dressing in costume, and hosting giant bonfires.
Halloween in Early America
Halloween wasn’t popular in the early decades of the American colonies. The first arrivals were Puritans with an opposite view of what made an appropriate celebration. Similarly, many Protestants did not celebrate saints' lives in the manner of the Catholics. For this reason, the concept of All Saints’ Day held little weight.
An influx of Irish and French immigrants during the 18th and 19th centuries changed that, most of the people from these regions were devout Catholics. They happily celebrated All Hallows’ Eve and All Saints’ Day each year. Their celebrative holiday in the form of stories around bonfires, costumes, and offering sweet treats to one another.
The toothy grin of Jack-O’-Lantern pumpkins originated in Ireland, bringing the tradition with them to America. They are a huge staple in US Halloween celebrations today. (Is it really Halloween without a Jack O’ Lantern?) Originally, the Jack O’ Lantern was carved from turnips or potatoes, which were more widely available in Ireland.
The legend of the name starts with a thief called Stingy Jack. He cheated the devil into a trap. He refused to release the devil, till he was promised the devil would never collect his soul. The devil agreed. But, as all people do, Stingy Jack died. He was too sinful for heaven, and the devil couldn’t send him to hell, Jack was stuck. The story concludes with Jack placing a lit piece of coal inside a carved turnip to light his way as he walks the earth.
This is just one of many spooky stories centered around the lore of Halloween. It’s a natural season to ask questions about those who died and the ideas surrounding the soul’s final resting place, especially those who left unfinished business or died violent deaths. Combine this with people’s natural love of storytelling and superstition, this evolved into an opportunity to delight and frighten listeners with tales of woe and revenge from beyond the grave. Made even scarier if Samhain be true, and the veil between worlds is thin.
Halloween in the 20th Century
In the past, families prepared offerings to their lost loved ones and other spirits who roamed the earth on Halloween. On the same night, they would hand out food to the poor in exchange they would pray for their dead relatives. This morphed into young people dressing up and asking for food, in exchange they would sing, dance, joke, performing a ‘trick’ before collecting their ‘treat.’
By the late 19th century, Halloween in the United states reflected an internal battle people fought between the holiday’s pagan roots and its proud place in Christian traditions. Americans grappled with what it meant to have a holiday bountiful of tricks and treats. It was one thing to carve an apple peel at a party, throwing it overhead to reveal the initial of a future spouse. It was quite another to halt a train, because there was a stuffed man on the tracks. A concentrated nationwide effort to change the tone of Halloween started in the 1930’s, making Halloween not only a family oriented holiday, but a community one. Halloween continued to grow in popularity. Community parties offered a fun break from the reality of World War II. And in classic American style, companies began incorporating the holiday into their product ideas.
Halloween and Pop Culture
Beistle is the oldest continuing manufacturer of decorations and party goods in the United States, but paper Halloween decorations began in the 1920’s. They created many of the iconic Halloween decor including the paper swinging jointed skeleton, that still features in many spooky party’s today.
The post war Baby Boom raised the want for family friendly activities. It also opened the door for costumes to be sold in big department stores like JCPenney and Sears. Candy companies made small candies and bags to match for this. The Howden Pumpkin debuted in the 60’s. With its large size, handle stem, thin walls, and cheery orange color, it is still the most popular carving pumpkin choice.
Americans turned Halloween into elaborate costumes, specialized products, and lucrative entertainment rooted in the essence of Halloween’s scary side. Twilight Zone dropped in 1959 on October 2, cementing people’s love for skin crawling stories. 1962 introduced the Jingle Bells of Halloween, Monster Mash. 1964 brought about the classic Adam’s Family normalizing spooky characters on television. 1969 unveiled the Disney Haunted Mansion which has only grown in popularity, now all the way through the holidays with their ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ themes.
And while all of these events paved the way for our trendy Pastel Gothic theme this Halloween, the 1970’s hold the honor of most influential decade, and I don’t mean because of the fashion.
1970’s and the Modern Halloween:
This was a huge decade in cementing Halloween as the central figure of ‘pop culture’. It was in the late 1970’s where commercial wrapped candy became the only ‘safe’ choice for parents worried about tampering and poisoning in homemade treats. There was a rising interest in proving supernatural occurrences as real. Iconic figures of this trend is Ed and Lorraine Warren, paranormal hunters who followed the trail of exorcists and ghost stories to the infamous Amityville house and the Enfield house among others. Many of these ‘real life’ stories from various sources inspired the horror films that have become a staple of modern Halloween traditions, including The classic 1973 Exorcist and the Amityville Horror House from 1979.
Cult classic films like Halloween (1978) cemented that the month of October would be Horror film debut territory, each one trying to premiere either on, before, or right after Halloween. Blockbuster films like Star Wars raised the bar for costumes. People weren’t just dressing up as supernatural beings, career options, or famous people; but Jedi’s and Michael Myers.
This trend snowballed. E.T. of the eighties showcased the ideal Halloween with kids trick or treating, and running amok to neighbor’s houses where parents are also donned in cat ears or masks. The 90’s brought Hocus Pocus, Scream, and Sixth Sense. Which in turn inspired costumes more elaborate than their predecessors. 2010’s brought about companies like Pinterest where you can find any Halloween decor or costume idea under the sun. Not to discount Etsy who at the time of this article was selling 2338618 items related to Halloween. Now, when you sit down to watch a Halloween film, you can stream any type of Halloween inspired films whether they be family friendly, a parody, or downright scary.
Halloween is the second most commercialized holiday in the United States, raking in an average of 8 billion dollars. Scary movies have generally taken the role of spooky stories with films like 2019’s Us making 175.1 million dollars and scaring the living daylights out of America when it premiered on March 22. And the infamous Halloween candy, over 10% of all candy sales happen in the days before Halloween with an average of 90 million pounds of candy being sold during the week leading up to the holiday.
This can all be seen as negatives, and there sure are several internet rants about how grotesque Halloween has become. But instead, we should look at it as a developing Holiday that has found its stride. After all, Christmas Mall Santas reach as far back as 1841. Halloween is a celebration of Pop Culture that keeps its roots tied to original practices of Disguises, Offerings, and Stories. Granted, it looks like Costumes, Trick or Treating, and Scary movies.
How to Celebrate Your Loved Ones this Halloween?
Halloween is considered an unapologetic pop culture holiday, but is rooted in remembering loved ones who have passed. One cool way to celebrate a loved one’s preferences for the darker things in life is to choose a Halloween urn. Halloween urns range with designs that fit in a variety of themes. After all, people might be full of grace and silliness. They deserve cremation urns that meet every aspect of their personality.
Why Choose a Halloween Urn?
There’s something delightfully trick about this holiday that will suit just about anyone. Small children love it. Moody teens can’t get enough of it. Adults enjoy it how they want, whether chaperoning the kid’s trick or treating or kicking back with a favorite scary movie.
Millions of people consider Halloween their favorite holiday. Why not indulge that kooky side with something that catches your eye? For example, the Anatomical Heart Locket Pendant Urn is a fantastic blend of tasteful rose gold and a goth style anatomical heart. What a perfect way for you to say your heart beats for a lost loved one.
Keep the Memory Series artist, Anne Stokes, specializes in wooden or matte black fantasy urns. They are perfect for those who enjoyed the more fantastical ideas of a ‘fairy land’, but her work fits well with the Halloween theme. Your preference may trend toward the vampire side of Halloween legends. In this case, the Rose Cross Urn is an excellent choice. It comes in a beautiful rose wood or matte black finish with a beautiful rose and cross on the front. For the wolf in all of us, the Canine Protector Urn features a young woman in the care and protection of a large wolf.
Although Halloween is an opportunity to explore the dark side, there is also room for the light. Angels are prominent characters in many stories. Representative of death, angels are always around us. Prayer for the Fallen Urn is perhaps one of the most gothic-themed urns. It displays a close image of an angel in dark clothing, with wings surrounding her in prayer. Visit Anne Stokes page to see the rest of her angel themed urns, but if you are looking for something that resembles a statue in a cemetery (or perhaps a Doctor Who episode), the Weeping Angel Adult Gothic Urn has all the details. This sculpture uses marble resin to depict a weeping angel draped over a gravestone, with crosses and laurel wreaths on all sides.
Who says that if you choose cremation you can’t have your final rest in a casket? The Presidential Casket Cremation Urn offers the casket experience, without the high cost or obligation to purchase a burial plot. The stainless steel Rose Coffin Ash Pendant Urn. is a tiny urn featuring a coffin with a rose on top to take your loved ones wherever you go.
If you’re looking for something a bit more whimsical, this Ghost Brass Keepsake Urn is sure to delight. The brass composition and white pearl finish make it a great display item. With its small size, it’s an easy and fun gift to give children of all ages.
How to Decorate Urns for Halloween
Let’s face it: Halloween has blossomed as a modern holiday and given that it reminds people of lost loved ones, it’s natural to want to include them in the holiday. Families often decorate gravestones for birthdays or holidays like Memorial Day or Dia de los Muertos. Incorporating an urn with a loved one’s final remains can be a wonderful way to participate in the celebration’s origins and honor someone who enjoyed it. These tips help families select a theme and create a design you will love.
1. Choose a Theme
The first thing you should do is select a theme. There are many fun and easy Halloween themes to find accessories for. These include:
- 19th century Halloween
- Gothic (black and red)
- Neon colors with family-friendly characters
- The Nightmare Before Christmas
- Blood and horror
Trends change over time, which means you might want to refresh your decorations every few years. For example, one of the most delightful trends for this year features a Gothic design incorporating pastel colors. And the giants of all things decor, Etsy and Pinterest, have loads of ideas to scour for affordable and easy to make options, whatever theme you choose.
2. Create a Design
The next step is creating a design featuring the urn in a prominent way. Evaluate the amount of space you're able to devote to the layout. If you want to add a little festivity to the urn itself, consider wrapping it in ribbon or surrounding it with flowers, picking the color and type that matches with the theme. Knowing the design makes the accessory process painless.
Pro Tip, urns that are sealed tight are moved easier. This means that if you want to move the urn from a shelf to a tabletop for Halloween, you can do this safely, but be careful if it isn’t sealed tight!
3. Select Accessories
Once you’ve set a theme and a general design, time for shopping or repurposing! Popular Halloween accessories include:
- Wall Hangings
- Fall Leaves
- Glass Bottles
- Skulls and bones
If you want to use living or natural items adding a tablecloth will make the clean up process easier if the plants wilt or rot.
It’s worth keeping in mind that accessories don’t have to be brand new to lend the right feel to the tablescape. For example, using dried flowers instead of fresh or faux flowers lends an antique flair. A little tarnish creates a perfect creepy, cool vibe for your Halloween decor.
4. Add Pictures
You may have loved ones who adored Halloween as a holiday. This is a great opportunity to create a whole display of pictures from parties or other activities. For example, you can arrange Halloween photos around the urn in chronological order. You might even organize it by the type of costume, or showcase awards from contests that the person won. This can be a fun way to honor a loved one and the things they enjoyed most in life.
Those of us who have lost loved ones will celebrate them every day of the year. As Halloween approaches, it’s a chance to think of this loss without feeling obligated to conceal grief. It’s also an excellent opportunity to take the delightful and ghoulish aspects of the spooky holiday and incorporate them into a celebration of missing friends and family.
Celebrate Halloween and Remember Your Loved Ones
After thousands of years and several renames, Halloween still holds true to its core elements of Disguises, Offerings, and Stories. And there is nothing wrong with enjoying the modern versions of Costumes, Trick or Treats, and Scary movies, but it is always good to look through history and be reminded of Halloween’s purpose to remember the dead. If you’ve lost a loved one, don’t shy away from celebrating them this season and revive a beautiful tradition that may bring a smile to your face and some peace.