Halloween Then and Now: Comparison
What does a modern person think when they hear about Halloween? Most likely, they associate
this holiday with children asking for candy and adults dressing up as celebrities. However, the
spooky festival has not always been kid-friendly. There are drastic differences between the
original Halloween and its modern form.
For a start, the general purpose of the celebrations on October 31st changed after a
thousand years. Initially, Halloween began as Samhain which symbolized the transition between
autumn and winter, light and dark, or life and death (Watson). Moreover, the Celts, who started
the tradition, wanted to protect themselves from the supernatural forces lurking in the night.
Their approach was so serious that only druids, Celtic religious leaders, could wear costumes and
do divination rituals and sacrifices. Modern-day Halloween has a less practical purpose. Since
people feel safer nowadays, they perceive former Samhain mostly as entertainment. Nobody
believes they are in danger without a costume. So the end of October became a perfect
opportunity for dressing up, partying, and bonding.
Since the original meaning of Halloween evolved, its other aspects, like costumes,
changed too. In Northern Europe circa 1000 BC, Halloween time was a rather eerie sight. At that
time, the goal of festivities was to blend with the folkloric monsters (Thomas). Therefore, Celts
wore animal skins and terrifying masks. Contrarily, today people celebrate a more glamorous
version of Halloween. This holiday experiences the strong impact of popular culture, which
produces new costume ideas like Marylin Monroe or Michael Jackson. Even the traditional
vampires, witches, and zombies flaunt stunning makeup looks and fancy sparkly clothes. If
anything, the paranormal forces might get envious rather than scared.
Another crucial Halloween tradition is pumpkin carving, which carried an important
meaning earlier. Similarly to uncanny masks, the grotesque pumpkin faces had to scare ghosts
away from houses in Celtic Ireland (Thomas). Furthermore, potatoes, beetroots, and other
roundish vegetables also served lighting and protection functions. The modern approach to
making jack-o-lanterns is more creative than practical. Both kids and adults enjoy making unique
shapes, an accessible form of artistic expression for everyone. Moreover, some elevate their
carving skills to a whole other level. Such enthusiasts create sceneries with complicated patterns
and intricate details.
Indeed, it is hard to imagine Halloween festivities without traditional food. However, the
diet was different a thousand years before the first shops appeared. People strictly followed
religious customs in ancient times, including fasting during holidays (Watson). In other words,
Celts enjoyed the harvest, which was apples and pumpkins, and avoided meat. Naturally, the
food tradition continued through centuries but took another form and meaning. Although
pumpkins and apples are still symbols of the spooky holiday, the food choice is now much
broader. Candy corn, jelly worms, chocolate candy, and pumpkin spice pastries are now in every
house at the end of October.
In conclusion, Halloween has almost completely changed throughout the centuries. The
holiday still carries the original symbols; however, it has a more elevated feeling. Halloween
used to be a dramatic holiday focused on frightening away ghosts and spirits, but nowadays, it’s
more commonly associated with candy and kids running around in costumes. After all,
Halloween still exists because it has a special place in many people’s hearts.
Thomas, Heather. “The Origins Of Halloween Traditions.” The Library Of Congress, 2021,
Watson, Gwen. “The History Of Halloween In The United States.” Food For Thought, 2022,