Willson: Halloween is more than just dressing up

Lauren Willson

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

Halloween is typically thought of as a day for kids: a jovial festival of trick-or-treating and begging for cavity-inducing sweets. But, college students benefit from this holiday just as much, if not more, than their younger counterparts.

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While collegiate culture may give the impression that Halloween is about binge drinking and skimpy costumes, the rituals we have developed around this time of year actually reflect the holiday’s most fundamental purposes. 

What’s more, the way in which our demographic celebrates the holiday pays homage to the spooky celebration’s traditional origins in more ways than one might realize.

Halloween traces its roots to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. The annual fall gathering was based on the belief that the night brought deceased souls from the afterlife into the world of the living, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. On this night, Celts would dress up as ghouls, goblins and other phantasmagorical creatures to ward off the evils of the underworld.

The ancient festival also marked the eve of the Celtic New Year, a day representing the transition between seasons of fruitfulness, harvest and natural decay and loss.

Just as the Celts celebrated Samhain to commemorate the transition into a new season, college students also partake in Halloween to celebrate the completion of midterms and the beginning of a new academic period. We dress up in spooky costumes to ward off the evils of professors’ grading pens and the potentially terrifying results of Scantrons.

In the same vein of controlling future events, Halloween rituals like apple bobbing were used as means of fortune telling in colonial America, states LiveScience. It was believed that the first person to successfully bob for an apple would be the first to marry. This and other marriage-based Halloween rituals are recounted in  “Halloween and Commemorations of the Dead” by Roseanne Montillo.

The romantic rites observed during Halloween on college campuses show strong parallels. Women and men alike may wear risqué costumes in a peacock-esque manner of attracting a partner, whether for short- or long-term engagement.

Additionally, social drinking may be seen as a celebratory custom that lessen inhibitions around this stressful, often lonely time of the semester. With “cuffing season” in full swing, it’s no wonder students are drawn to police (wo)man costumes.

Halloween is a holiday characterized by superstition and magical ideals. Black cats, jack-o-lanterns, and ghosts were each originally linked with certain connotations: avoiding bad luck, guiding spirits of loved ones, and scaring off demons, respectively. Decades and even centuries later, it can be easy to forget where Halloween began.

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Today, college parties might seem benign and totally uninfluenced by spiritual, romantic, or superstitious rites and rituals. But at their core, these gatherings of costume-clad undergrads all share a similar purpose: to help us forget our fears of the past, present and future, if only for a night.

Lauren Willson can be reached at letters@collegian and online via Twitter @WillsonLauren