Online Exclusive: Halloween is totally awesome

When money, logic, and Lululemon have a stranglehold on the majority of Canadians, it’s rare to find a holiday that freely celebrates man’s irrationality and wanton need for irreverence. Enter Halloween, the least legitimate of the calendar’s holidays-right up there with Arbor Day and National Secretary’s Day.

But, according to a University of Calgary professor, Halloween is not quite as insignificant a holiday as we may think.

“Halloween actually originated as part of an ancient pagan harvest festival,” said communications and culture professor Dr. Rebecca Sullivan. “It was a solstice festival, appropriated by Christians and turned into a Christian holiday [called] All Soul’s Day.”

Sullivan said Halloween is a syncretic holiday, meaning its traditions come from a number of different religions and customs. The holiday we currently know as Halloween has extensive roots and draws upon Celtic tradition, where it was known as Samhain. Halloween was also re-invented by Christian missionaries during the medieval Christianization of Europe.

“Essentially, what [missionaries] did was adapt pagan festivals to Christianity and give a different reason why,” said Sullivan. “Christianity was an incredibly flexible, adaptable faith, adapting and tweaking festivals to fit their beliefs.”

The new image of Halloween today as a raucous free-for-all of candy, debauchery and revelry has come a long way from its Christian European heritage, playing upon half-truths of the holiday’s black magic motivations, said Sullivan.

“Halloween was never meant to be simply a frightening, lock-your-doors holiday,” she said. “It was meant to be an expression of fears and anxiety about the afterlife.”

Sullivan attributed the practices seen today, including dressing up, carving jack-o-lanterns and occult elements to the concept of opening the window to supernatural forces. Halloween was a transitional holiday, continued Sullivan, a way in which people marked a moment in life when order was turned upside down.

“The idea behind Halloween was that it was a time when the dead came back to rule the land of the living,” said Sullivan. “But more so, it was a release of the pressures of political and social life.”

Brushing aside misconceptions and zombie movie clichés, Sullivan attested to Halloween’s inherent value, looking to its longevity and popularity as indications of its contribution to society.

“Halloween was never a major religious holiday, even in pagan terms, it’s survived because it’s fun,” said Sullivan. “I mean, why does Santa Clause or the Easter Bunny exist? We need to release our values-to be silly, goofy and enjoy our irrational traditions.”

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