Halloween viewed differently around the world

art by Ellie Stitzer

art by Ellie Stitzer

Alice Yu

With bags of ghost-themed candy lining the aisles of supermarkets, and pumpkins decorating door stoops, the day of the dead is creeping into the minds of students who may be wondering what their costumes should be, or perhaps are looking forward to the discounted sweets.
The picturesque traditions of trick-or-treating, carving pumpkins or watching horror movies — depending on your age bracket— are accepted social norms that exemplify the stereotypical American Halloween.
As a student who has experienced Halloween in both the United States and Australia, Kaz Thomas says that the excitement and jubilee is toned down in other countries. Currently in Japan as a foreign exchange student, Thomas noticed that a lack of Halloween merchandise and celebration is evident both in Japan and Australia.
“Halloween isn’t widely celebrated in Australia as it is in America,” Thomas said. “It’s known as the pedophile’s Christmas. No one over the age of 10, I’d say, goes trick-or-treating, and even then it’s still a small amount in comparison to the States.”
With origins in the pre-Christian Celtic era, the popular activity of trick-or-treating, along with the reason for celebration, can be found in the Celtic festival of Samhain.
According to the Library of Congress’ American Folklife Center, the Celtic calendar set the beginning of a new year on the day that corresponds with Nov. 1st on the Gregorian calendar, the most common calendar. The Celts believed on the eve of that day, dead souls were free to roam as they journeyed from the material world to the spiritual world. Leaving food and offerings out to appease the ghosts along with other fabled demons, the Celts hoped to keep the living and the dead separate.
As the years wore on, Samhain adopted Christian features, a transformation that resulted from the conversion of Celts to Christianity, according to the American Folklife Center. Along with a move away from its Celtic origins, many people began to take advantage of the offerings, dressing up as the feared creatures to obtain food and drink.
Now incorporated into the spirit of Halloween, the act of donning a costume to receive candy has spread from Old England to other countries, albeit in much smaller numbers.
In Korea, trick-or-treating is also mainly an activity for elementary school students, but the architectural set-up of Korea creates a barrier between trick-or-treaters and their treats.
“Not many people dress up because it’s not a big deal in Korea, but for elementary school students, they go trick-or-treating from house to house,” sophomore JiHo Kim said. “But if you go to apartments, you have to know the password to go into that apartment building, so you can only go to your friend’s house, so it’s not really a big thing there.”
Delegated as background noise in Korea, Halloween is virtually non-existent in the Congo. The celebration of the day of the dead is wrapped up into their own memorial day. Holding a more solemn tone, the Congolese honor their loved ones who have passed with offerings.
“In the Congo, we don’t celebrate Halloween because it’s not in our culture,” sophomore Aline Nene said. “I just learned about it in America.”
With all the commotion in the United States surrounding Halloween, but not a lot of attention put on the origins and original purpose, Halloween has arguably been spun into a commercial holiday when morals get thrown out of the window.
The average consumer will spend $77.52 on merchandise associated with Halloween, an increase from the $75.03 estimate for the 2013 Halloween season, according to a survey released by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics.
The percentage of consumers planning to buy a Halloween costume is also on the rise. For the first time in the 11-year history of NRF’s survey, more than two-thirds of consumers, 67.4 percent, plan to purchase a Halloween costume. An estimated $2.8 billion will be spent on children and adult costumes and for man’s best friend and other furry friends, NRF predicts owners will shell out around $350 million for pet costumes.
With purchases from costumes to candy to decor, total spending on Halloween merchandise is expected to reach $7.4 billion. Straying from honoring the dead, celebrants are focusing in on the chance to be someone different and jump on the marketing roller coaster.
“It’s strange, though, when you get the opinion of someone who hasn’t had a first hand experience of the American way and question it,” Thomas said. ”For example, why do we teach our kids ‘stranger danger,’ except on this one particular day every year where it’s not only okay to talk to strangers, but to eat candy given by said stranger? It goes against everything you are taught growing up. It makes you wonder why we do those things.”
By Alice Yu
Art by Ellie Stitzer