Monday Funday Photo of the Week: Halloween History

As a fresh way to kick off the work week, My Wonderful World is now bringing our readers a Monday-Funday Photo of the Week.  Designed not only around aesthetics, this photo sharing start-to-the-week is also about facilitating geographic discussion on current events and relevant topics. 

2011-10-27_92243_humor.JPGA holiday favorite for many Americans, the geography, economics, and history of Halloween is a largely untold story of much more substance than costumes and candy.

Samhain, the alleged precursor to Halloween, was a celebration of the Celtic New Year that took place as many as 2,000 years ago. According to an article written for National Geographic News by James Owen, the festival marked the end of the Celtic year, when the harvest was gathered and animals were rounded up. As for early forms of costumes, it was during this celebration that, the hides of cattle and other livestock slaughtered at this time were ritually worn during festivities that likely hark back to even earlier pagan beliefs. Samhain may have also been the start of tying fear, death and the afterlife to our modern-day conception of Halloween. According to Owen, Samhain night was also a celebration of the dead–the one time the spirits were believed to walk among the living. Under the emergence of the growing popularity of Christianity, the pagan-influenced celebration was changed during, the seventh century [when] Pope Boniface IV decreed November 1 All Saints’ Day, or All Hallows’ Day. (from National Geographic News)

It wasn’t until the 19th century that European immigrants brought Halloween to the United States, and the celebration really gathered steam in the 1800s, when Irish-American immigration exploded. Historians believe that Anoka, Minnesota, may be home to the United States’ oldest official Halloween celebration. Beginning in 1920, the city began staging a parade and bonfire. Nearly 100 years later, the tradition is still very much alive in the United States and still growing in popularity.

A record-breaking 161 million people plan on celebrating Halloween in 2011, the highest in the National Retail Federation (NRF)‘s nine years of surveying Americans about their Halloween habits. This averages out to mean that seven in 10 Americans, or 68.6 percent, plan to celebrate Halloween, up from 63.8 percent last year, according to NRF.  To this fact, “the average person will spend $72.31 on decorations, costumes, and candy, which is up from $66.28 last year. Total expenditures for the holiday should reach $6.86 billion.”


A profitable and nationally recognized event, Halloween is also
associated with witchcraft, black magic and the after-world. According
to a National Geographic Education article, the most famous witch trial
in history happened in Salem, Massachusetts, during the winter and
spring of 1692-1693. When it was all over, 141 suspects, both men and
women, were tried as witches. Nineteen were executed by hanging. One was
pressed to death by heavy stones.

Haunting both in history and through modern day mass media, witch trials
like this one are not simply campfire stories from the past. 
Twenty-first century witch trials are part of life today in may regions
of the world, and some studies have shown that charges of witchcraft
have actually been increasing.  In fact, this reality is closer to home
than many realize: a 2005 poll of Canadians and people from the United
Kingdom found that 13 percent believed in witches. For Americans, that
number was even higher–21 percent (National Geographic Education).  I
wonder whether these numbers had any bearing on the fact that “witch”
was this year’s most popular adult Halloween costume…

Whether for producing a candy-induced coma or for a spiritual connection
to the dead, Halloween is without a doubt a very real part of American
culture that will continue to be celebrated in unique ways across the
country and in other parts of the world.  Here’s to an incredibly
interesting and historically dynamic holiday. My Wonderful World readers, I wish you all a Happy Halloween!

Photo Credits: Your Shot, Chase Guttman & Elvio Santos
–Julia from My Wonderful World

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