In July, a petition to change Halloween from October 31st to the last Saturday of the month began to pick up steam. It made national headlines. While the petition quickly gathered over 130,000 signatures, it also attracted a strong faction of disapproval.
The purists were particularly unenthused. They believe that the date of October 31st is historically significant. And they’re not wrong.
Halloween is believed to be rooted in 10th century Ireland during the Celtic festival ofSamhain, marking the end of harvest. But by some accounts, the observance goes even deeper, with pagan celebrations dating all the way back to the Neolithic Era (4000-2500 BC).
And those ancient peoples knew how to party: apple-bobbing, fire rituals, divination, sun-worship, and mock human sacrifice were all early elements of Samhain, which always took place on October 31st, as a middle ground between the autumn equinox and winter solstice, marking the end of harvest and the beginning of winter.
Meanwhile, the Western Church was celebrating All Saints Day, a feast incorporated from Lemuria, an ancient Roman festival for the dead. In the 8th century, Pope Gregory IV declared All Saints Day moved to November 1st. This was a major adjustment for Roman Catholics, who had up until then observed the holiday on the first Sunday after Pentecost — known today as Trinity Sunday. In 2019, that day fell on June 16th. In the 8th century, All Saints Day was in May.
So why the abrupt change? Because of apublic health crisis.
As the number of All Saints Day pilgrimages to Rome grew, the ancient city could no longer sustain the summer influxes of travelers. Roman Fever, a particularly devastating strain of malaria, was a perennial summer concern, and may have ultimately led to Gregory IV’s decision tomove the holiday back several months.
So there you have it — a government moved an ancient tradition halfway across the calendar for practical purposes. I say it’s time to do it again.
But look, I get it. This latest petition wasstarted by the Halloween & Costume Association, and most of their stated reasons focus on child safety, which begs for a cynical chuckle. On top of that, Snickers has offered to donate one million free candy bars if the date changes. This is clearly a move to maximize revenue for the businesses that cater to this specific holiday. But don’t act like you’ve never stood in line for one of those wicked Black Friday deals after Thanksgiving — a holiday the US governmentalso moved to fall on the last Thursday of the month.
And as for all those Halloween traditions you hold dear? Costumes, trick-or-treating, masks and painted faces? All Renaissance-era, Church-influenced modifications. In fact, America didn’t really seem to care about Halloween until the massIrish and Scottish immigration of the 19th century.
So if you want to be a true purist, you better beditching the pumpkin to instead hollow out turnip lanterns, light a giant ritualistic bonfire, fake a human sacrifice, and divine some humors.
I’ll be at the bar, celebrating America’s annual shame-free chance to dress like a slut or a psycho or both, to throw back too many flavored vodkas and White Claws, and then to Uber home from a strange neighborhood at 7 a.m.
Nobody wants to do that on a Tuesday.
We’re already two months past summer solstice. Every day the sun loses ground to night and soon, summer will give way to autumn.
We are running out of time to evolve.
The Pumpkin Spice Latte isonly a week away.