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September 29, 2023

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Halloween changes in tradition, increases in popularity

Halloween traditions are catching up in importance to other holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“Decorating both houses and yards has grown in popularity significantly in the last 20 years,” said Esther Clinton, a professor in the Popular Culture department.

Clinton said with Halloween decorations and candy starting to appear in stores in late August or early September, the holiday is getting as popular as Christmas in terms of how early everything starts.

One difference between Halloween and other holidays is that “Halloween is more about friends and less about family,” Clinton said. People may see family members who live nearby, but do not typically travel long distances the way they would for Thanksgiving or Christmas.

The tradition of dressing up for Halloween dates to the holiday’s origins in Ireland. At the time, Halloween was thought of as the last day of the year, and “the concern was that the supernatural was able to reach into the real world more easily,” Clinton said. Dressing in scary costumes was meant to scare away the supernatural.

Today, scariness isn’t the goal for all costumes.

Freshman Kalen Rice said he would “dress up for parties as Lieutenant Dangle from Reno 911!”

“A lot of college students actually do get dressed up,” Clinton said.

They may also go to parties and drink alcohol, she said, but that is not unique to Halloween.

Clinton said decorating is a recent tradition. When she was a kid, her family only decorated inside the house, and they were probably the only family on their street that did. Now it is common to see decorations outside, she said.

Trick-or-treating has been around longer, but it has changed too. Communities are more likely to have specific rules about what times are appropriate for trick-or-treating and what ages can participate. It was more casual when Clinton was young.

Junior Michael Richter said although he will be “hopefully hanging out with friends,” during Halloween, he will first go out with the Student Organization of Social Workers, and their efforts will benefit children in need of food.

“I will be going around town to collect canned food items,” he said. “Usually [when I was younger] I went trick-or-treating with my family—my dad, brother and cousin—or friends,” Richter said.

Many of the traditions associated with Halloween are simply practical because of the time of year, Clinton said.

“When we think of Halloween, we think of apples, pumpkins and jack-o-lanterns,” Clinton said.

Since those things ripen in the fall, “it’s no wonder [Halloween] becomes associated with those things,” Clinton said.

Sophomore Carmen Riddle added corn mazes to the list of seasonal activities associated with Halloween.

“It’s a celebration of fall, which is a time of harvest,” Clinton said. “It’s also a way of celebrating before winter starts. Now Thanksgiving has done that, but Thanksgiving is actually a relatively new holiday.”

Also related to the time of year is Halloween being a “recognition of the power of death and loss,” Clinton said.

The holiday fits with the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter in a way that it wouldn’t fit with the new blooms of spring.

That aspect of the holiday can be misunderstood meaning that in some places, celebrating the holiday is not acceptable, Clinton said.

“Halloween’s always had a PR problem, though, in that people argue that it’s a celebration of evil, of death, of the satanic,” Clinton said. “Some people think of Halloween as morbid and scary. Death and loss are part of life, and Halloween is a chance to try to acknowledge and accept that as much as we ever can.”

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