Halloween is not a holiday. It isn’t, and it never was - at least, not a “statute,” or national public holiday. Children go to school. Banks and Post Offices remain open. Fathers and mothers have their business as usual. So I am annoyed when I hear and read in writing when, people blithely call it a “holiday,” especially North American people, where the festival is from for the most part.
I will hear someone say on television, for example, “Halloween is my favorite holiday,” and then I want to shout at the TV screen,
“It isn’t a holiday, you twit!!!”
Such errors point to chronic and widespread lazy brain syndrome - call it stupidity. It is a Christian Liturgical holiday, it’s true - All Hallows Eve (Hallowe’en, October 31st, also known as All Souls Day) followed by All Saints Day (November 1st). But we live in a secular society where liturgical holy days do not (necessarily) translate into public holidays.
How to explain Halloween in a short story like this? Firstly, every culture in the world has some kind of festival to mark the waning of the sunlight and the lengthening darkness of autumn and winter days. Also, to celebrate the harvest, which happens at roughly the same time. Next, Halloween is a perfect example of a pagan festival taken over and then‘Christianized’ by the expanding Church in Europe. Oddly, some religious antagonists use this as a platform to challenge and question the legitimacy or the credibility of the Christian Church. Thirdly, we can accurately call it the New Year of the Celts, and especially of the Irish Druids, so Halloween has a special connection with Ireland, which is key for explaining its emergence as an American, or North American custom.
Basically, Halloween was brought to North America by Irish immigrants in the 19th century - refugees from the great potato famine in that island country, I suppose. In Irelandit had been a custom to carve scary faces into potatoes that were then left by the doorposts of homes to ward off the spirits of the wandering dead on All Hallows Eve. This custom came with Irish immigrants to the Americas. But how, why and when did the large, orange American “carving mpkins” become threshold guardians, and how did it spread throughout the U.S.and Canadaand take up its current position in the calendar? I don’t know.
An important point to remember is that the pumpkin carved with the scary visage is a good item - for good luck and defense against evil spirits. Children dress in costume and roam the streets in imitation of the restless, roaming dead. Homeowners protect their homes with gourd guardians but, failing in that, they bribe the ghosts and demons with candy to leave. “Trick or Treat!” is a request for a bribe, backed up with the threat of mischief or malice.
In today’s world people not only think of Halloween as a “holiday,” but as a children’s festival and an occasion for great fun. For me, though, Halloween has less to do with fun than it has to do with evil: evil let loose on the world in the dark, the perfectibility of evil at least for a day. And it has to do with children only as a result of decades of evolution, as if by confining it to childhood experience adults were making it safer for themselves.
I never attended a Halloween Party shaped around this notion of “fun” in my life until I came to Japan. It is not a holiday in here, and since Japan has its own festival of the dead in the summer time - called Obon, when people traditionally visit their hometowns and tend their family grave plots - the Japanese really had/have no use for Halloween. However, they are a very imitative people chronically enthralled by anything American, and so there is actually quite a bit of Halloween regalia and activity here.