Globalizing Halloween

Halloween is one of the most celebrated holidays in the United States today, but that wasn’t always the case. In fact, Halloween was rather unknown to much of the population and wasn’t celebrated by pockets of Americans until the arrival of Irish immigrants who were escaping the potato famine of the mid-1800s. With the mass arrival of the Irish came their cultural traditions, including practices that would evolve into the Halloween that we see now.

Even though early Halloween practices were being spread throughout the United States, commercialization of the holiday didn’t really begin until the mid-1900s, with costumes being mass-produced and sold in stores as well as trick-are-treating starting to develop as a yearly tradition. It wasn’t until the 90s that Halloween decorations really began to find its place in the market, as they had used to be mostly home-made. Halloween exploded into a major celebration celebrated by people of all backgrounds.

The North American Halloween was influenced by a lot of practices that originated in Europe. In Great Britain and Ireland, souling was a tradition in which children would go to each house and sing and say prayers for treats such as soul cakes. This practice is believed to be the origins of the trick-or-treating practice we see today. Scottish and Irish children would also carve faces into turnips to scare away spirits, but this evolved into the pumpkin jack-o-lanterns that we have in the United States and Canada.

Once Halloween grew into a large part of United States culture, other countries began to adopt similar practices modeled after the American way of celebrating the holiday. The Philippines, which tends to readily adopt Western culture, sees many Halloween decorations  available in stores during the season. Some students in Bosnia and Herzegovina wear their costumes to school on Halloween. Urban parts of Wales sees children go trick-or-treating and teens and adults attending Halloween parties. Still, many countries incorporate their own folklore and traditions to create their own distinct celebrations.

Of course, while some countries are adopting basic Halloween practices that are common in the United States, there are people in places such as Australia and Brazil who see this as another American import that should be resisted. The debate rages on though as while Halloween is a popular event in the Untied States, the holiday’s origins lie back with Celtic traditions.

Many of the holidays that we celebrate have been globalized in one way or another and like all things globalized, societies have to negotiate how to deal with these influences.


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