In some places, Halloween celebrations are religious, consisting of celebrating the Day of the Dead at church. Other celebrations focus on more earthly concerns about whether to dress up as a pirate or princess and how much to expect from the candy haul.
Halloween is a much older celebration than many realize. A fall harvest festival has been around since there were harvests, shortly after humans moved past the hunter-gatherer stage. It was a time of bounty, but also the end of the summer growing season, overshadowed by the hardships of winter.
Thousands of years ago, winter brought the very real threat of starvation, illness and death. From this came the roots of Halloween, originally by pre-Christian Celtic people (known as Pagans) who populated the British Isles.
At this time, there was both respect for and fear of the ghosts of dead ancestors. They were thought to visit our world in the fall because the seasonal death of vegetation moved our world closer to the spirit realm. The ghosts were thought to return once a year on All Hallows Eve and had to be appeased with a gift to ward off misfortune. Gourds were carved and candles lit to keep away evil spirits. These were called “soul lights”.
Over the years, that tradition was retrofitted for use by the church in which All Hallows Eve celebrated the souls of saints, martyrs and departed loved ones. People would make soul cakes (a cupcake-sized confection) and pass them out to those who dressed up to represent ghosts of the dearly departed. Gourd carving gradually became pumpkin carving, and the jack-o-lantern was born.
Now we have some historical explanation for dressing in costume, trick-or-treating and jack-o-lanterns. However, most recently, Halloween has become a decidedly dark holiday. If you have any doubt, a quick visit to the local Halloween store will confirm. There is definitely an evil theme with costumes such as bloody zombies, vampires and other various dark abominations. These stores are designed to creep you out and provide you the decorations to creep out your whole neighborhood. Presumably if you do a good enough job decorating your house, it will be too terrifying for any children to actually trick-or-treat there. And you may become the talk of the homeowners’ association.
You may personally know some of the more enthusiastic Halloween celebrators and think they are good people. Their light-hearted exploration of the dark side probably does not involve pentangles or dead goats. Most of the real evil is in the candy bags. Reese’s peanut butter cups may be more addictive than drugs and could be responsible for the downfall of otherwise health-minded people. Remember, this started as a Pagan ritual.
Good hunting (candy),
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.