Fright night revels spread across the globe

Ghouls of the night: Last year 130,000 people attended the Kawasaki Halloween parade in Tokyo.

Is Halloween good for society? The ghoulish industry is worth billions of dollars. And as more countries around the world embrace the festival of horrors, it is expected to get even bigger.

Households have stocked up with sacks of sweets. And gangs of vampires, ghosts, and witches prepare to terrorise the streets. Halloween is going global.

America is set to have its biggest Halloween ever. Spending on the festival is predicted to reach $9.1 billion — more than the GDP of Rwanda. In the UK people are set to spend £320m.

Halloween has roots in the Celtic traditions of the British Isles. But countries with no connection to this history are falling under Halloween’s spell.

In Germany, October 31st is normally reserved for Reformation Day which celebrates the life of Martin Luther. But this year 37% of people aged 18-29 plan on dressing up for Halloween.

And in Japan the Kawasaki Halloween Parade sees Tokyo overrun by revellers dressed as zombies and dismembered cartoon characters. In Japan Halloween is now worth $1.2 billion — making it the country’s second biggest festival after Christmas.

It is not just trick or treating children driving this growth. More young adults are embracing the scary season. An American survey found that millennials will spend $183 each on sweets, costumes and parties.

And according to historian Nicholas Rogers, adults love Halloween because it is a day of “license, transgression, and a lack of inhibition”. In other words, Halloween is a carnival.

Carnivals were created in the Middle Ages. In a society ruled by strict religious codes and social hierarchies, carnivals offered a way for the masses to briefly escape the drudgery of real life.

As writer David Brooks puts it, during carnival, “Everything was turned on its head.” Men dressed as women, commoners became kings, and drunkenness became a virtue.

At Halloween normal life is also turned upside down. Work stops and parties begin. Grey suits turn to ghoulish costumes. And the dead come back to life.

So is Halloween good for society?

Wicked fun

Author Elizabeth Marquardt argues that Halloween reveals the “web of civil society”, and some agree. There is a deeper power at work with trick or treating. It encourages people to engage with strangers — sharing conversations and treats. And the carnival of Halloween revelry offers us all a brief escape from the pressure of conformity. By playing as creatures from the world of the dead, we can understand what it means to be alive.

“Halloween is harmful,” others reply. In the past All Hallows’ Eve was a poignant time for thinking on the fragility of life. Now Halloween is a commercialised gore-fest where people compete to devise the most offensive costumes possible. Its popularity should not be confused for a sign of social solidarity. It is a depressing signal that the spiritual side of life is lost on more and more people.

You Decide

  1. Is Halloween good or bad?
  2. Do people need to know the historical origins of a festival to appreciate it?

Activities

  1. Imagine you have been asked to devise a brand new holiday for the modern world. What would it celebrate? What would it be called? What activities would people do to commemorate it?
  2. Do some research into the history of Halloween. See if you can work out the origins of these three Halloween traditions: trick or treating, carving jack-o-lanterns, and bobbing for apples.

Some People Say...

“Every day is Halloween.”

Tim Burton

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Halloween is celebrated to varying degrees around the world. It is generally seen as a foreign festival in China, but Chinese people do celebrate the “hungry-ghost festival” in July which commemorates dead relatives. In Italy, All Saints’ Day on November 1st remains a public holiday in which families pray for the souls of deceased relatives.
What do we not know?
With Halloween observed in many different ways across the world, we do not know exactly how many people will celebrate the festival this year. And we cannot be sure that ghosts do not exist. In 2014 psychological researcher Etzel Cardena claimed that science has not “eliminated […] support for the existence of parapsychological phenomena.” Parapsychology refers to paranormal powers like telekinesis.

Word Watch

$9.1 billion
According to a report by the National Retail Federation in America.
Rwanda
The World Bank reports that Rwanda has a GDP of $8.3 billion.
£320m
According to figures from market research firm Mintel.
Celtic
The Celtic people include natives of Wales, Ireland, and the Scottish highlands. It was believed that at the end of the harvest season, the boundary between the physical and spirit world breaks down and ghosts of the dead would visit.
Reformation Day
In 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of All Saints’ church in Wittenberg. This kick-started the Reformation and the spread of Protestantism.
37%
According to a recent YouGov survey.
Survey
According to an American survey of over 2,000 people, conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of CIT Bank.
All Hallows’ Eve
The Christian holiday from which the name Halloween derives. It is the day before All Hallows’ Day. In 835 Pope Gregory switched All Hallows’ Day from its previous date in the Spring to November 1st. This ensured that it coincided with the Celtic pagan festival.

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