In Halloween, Holidays

Halloween Celebrations in Dallas

Ghosts and goblins walk down the street with bags full of candy. Jack-o-lanterns, with their triangular eyes and jagged teeth, glow from the porch steps of neighbors’ houses. Black cats perch in trees among the hues of autumn leaves. Bats flee abandoned houses at twilight. Witches fly across the full moon at night.

Okay, so you don’t really see witches flying or bats fleeing rickety old houses. These are all just characteristic images this time of year. October not only marks the beginning of Fall, but also of Halloween. It is a beautiful time of year with cooler temperatures and leaves changing from green to brilliant reds, yellows and oranges. Traditionally, Fall is the season for light-hearted fun and friendly community gatherings, and it all begins with fall festivals to celebrate the harvest and Halloween.

Every year on October 31st, young children accompanied by older siblings or parents leave their houses at dusk to walk up and down the streets in search of candy. Dressed as witches, zombies, or their favorite TV characters, children knock on their neighbors’ doors and say “Trick or Treat”. Their neighbor kindly offers a platter or bag full of candy and lets them choose two or three pieces. The children add the candy to their growing collection of sweets happily, and sometimes a bit greedily. But, who can blame them. This is their night.

So, if candy is the treat, what is the “trick”? There really is no trick. It’s like a lot of traditions surrounding Halloween. We just do them without knowing why because it is the custom. The expression originates from the idea that if the children were not given candy, they would perform some bad trick on the homeowners of the house. This, of course, really does not happen. If a homeowner does not wish to give candy for some reason, they usually leave their porch lights off, don’t decorate, and don’t answer the doorbell. Children don’t visit, and no evil trick is played.

On the other hand, the houses with candy are brightly lit and may have some spooky ghosts flying from the trees or giant cobwebs covering the windows. In recent years, Halloween lovers have really started to go all out with their decorations creating haunting landscapes to be enjoyed, or feared, by all those who pass by.  It is fun to see the creativity that goes into creating some of these ghoulish scenes, and it is a great conversation starter to get to know your neighbors better.

There is some common etiquette to trick or treating. First, the best “witching hours” for candy are between 6 pm and 9 pm. Remember, most Americans are accustomed to getting to bed early. Anytime after 9 pm is considered late. Plus, there might not be any good candy left. Remember too, a dark house means they want to be left alone. So skip that one, and move on to a brightly lit house. However, if they don’t answer the doorbell, they may have just forgotten to turn off the lights and don’t want to be disturbed. Move on.

Another common guideline pertains to the age of trick or treaters. Most youngsters stop dressing up and going trick or treating between twelve and seventeen years old. Most teens simply outgrow trick or treating, but it can also be a community safety concern too. While it is cute to have a five-year-old child dressed as a zombie on your front porch asking for candy at 7 pm, it is a little unsettling to see a 5’8” teenager with a mask on ringing your doorbell at night. This idea applies to those who accompany children as well. Dressing up is fine, but masks are probably best for the youngsters, or for private Halloween parties and events.

Is Halloween Only for Children in America?

So, what does Halloween offer adults? Is it only for children? The answer is a resounding no. There are tons of die-hard Halloween fans who love throwing costume parties and having lots of fun. It is a time to break the humdrum daily routine and celebrate the fantasy. There are also a variety of haunted houses around the Dallas-Fort Worth area ranging from a tiny kid-friendly scare to a full on blood curdling scream scare. Here at Excel Institute, we always celebrate with a costume contest and a variety of games. The past several years we have had a wonderful turnout of our international students and teachers getting full swing into the festive mood of Halloween.
been added to the mix.

What is the point to all this? From an outsider’s perspective it might just seem like a meaningless commercial holiday that is hyped up in order to boost sales and dentist visits. Indeed, the costume industry is pretty big. And, parents need to be vigilante that their children don’t over-consume sugary treats. But, despite its commercial popularity, it does have deeper roots in our nation’s heritage. You know America is a melting pot of different cultures steeping in traditions brought by immigrants to the United States. The same is true of Halloween.

Halloween, also known as All Hallows’ Eve, can be traced back to a pre-Christian Celtic festival. The Celts who lived in Ireland, England and northern France about 2,000 years ago celebrated their new year on November 1st to mark the end of summer and the harvest before the dark, cold winter. They believed that on October 31st, the night before the new year, the boundary between the living world and the dead merged. The festival to honor the return of the ghosts of the dead was called Samhain (pronounced sow-in). During this festival, the Celts would light bonfires and wear costumes to scare away evil spirits. People would also leave food and candy for the dead, as well as carve out turnips and rutabagas with embers inside them to ward off souls of the dead.

Later on the catholic church created All Saints Day, or All-Hallowmas on November 1st to honor the saints and All Soul’s Day on November 2nd to pray for the souls of the dead. It’s widely believed that this was a religious attempt to replace the pagan holiday of Hallow E’en as it was known to the ancient Druids with a church-sanctioned holiday. All Souls Day was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels and devils.

With the immigration to America, many of these European and native American traditions blended with each other and eventually evolved into what we call Halloween today. The first celebrations of Halloween included public parties held to celebrate the harvest where neighbors would share stories of the dead, tell each other’s fortunes, dance and sing. Colonial festivities also included mischief-making of all kinds. In the late 1800’s, there was a move to make Halloween more about community and kinship rather than ghosts and pranks by having parties for adults and children that focused on games, seasonal food, and festive costumes. By the 1950’s, Halloween had become a holiday mainly directed at the young. Today, Americans spend about $6 billion annually on Halloween, which makes it the country’s second largest commercial holiday after Christmas.

So looking back at the evolution of Halloween from its ancient origins in Celtic culture to its migration to America, it is easy to see where these seemingly wacky and random traditions emerged from. People get dressed up so that evil spirits won’t recognize them, thus thwarting harm. Giving candy and carving pumpkins are additional ways to ward off unwanted pranks from not so friendly ghosts. As far as black cats, witches and bats, those are just fun superstitions that have been thrown into the mix over time. So, despite its superficial appearance as a meaningless profit making commodity, Halloween is rich in tradition with roots in community building and neighborly cheer.

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International Holiday Celebrations at Excel