Seasonal Halloween traditions contain unknown symbolism
October 31, 2014
We are already entering the final week of October, which means students around campus are finalizing their Halloween plans.
Many students go to parties, out on the town with their friends, or they find their inner child and go trick-or-treating. Whatever peoples’ plans are, there are always fun things to do on this spooky holiday.
What are well-known Halloween traditions, where did they come from, and what do they mean?
Plans and interests may change from year-to-year, but they all revolve around the standard traditions and customs that brought Halloween to life.
As most of us know, the colors associated with Halloween are orange and black. While it may make sense that these colors were chosen due to their ominous quality, there are actually other reasons why they were chosen as well. They mostly represent the time of year. Orange is one of many colors of fall, meant to symbolize the changing colors of the leaves. It also represents the hue of most pumpkins, another symbol of the popular holiday. Black was not mainly chosen for its spooky or ominous qualities. Rather, it symbolizes the end of Daylight Savings Time and the longer nights ahead in the coming winter. This year, turning back the clocks happens just two short days after Halloween.
Spiders, a common fear among many individuals, do in fact symbolize the spooky side of Halloween. Many party hosts will hang up fake spider webs as a decoration in order to make the feeling of Halloween more authentic. Time, progress and fate, or the circle of life, is represented in a spider web. Our lives all progress over time, taking shape and changing as needed. Ultimately, we do all suffer the same fate: death. Even if we are not the bug that twists itself into the spider’s web, that web reminds us that we do not live forever. And that is enough to be spooky and ominous for many people.
Similarly, ghosts also focus on death and passing into the after-life. The end of harvest for the season reminds some of what happens next, what happens when we pass over into another realm different from Earth. Ghosts are the main reason why some refer to Halloween as the “Festival of the Dead,” since long-gone ancestors are said to be able to roam freely in the world, among the living.
The real question is, should we believe in ghosts and their so-called ability to haunt? Or is it just a scare tactic used to make the holiday (and other days, for that matter) interesting?
Certain animals are also related to Halloween, their dark appearance suggesting the spirit of the holiday. While black cats in reality are gentle, kind cats, Halloween suggests otherwise. Some ancient religions believed that black cats were cats reincarnated from humans and could see into the future. They relate to witches, as it was also believed that witches could turn into cats (which totally explains the cat turned professor in Harry Potter), so most black cats seen around the holiday were witches.
Bats are also symbolized on Halloween, but for different reasons. Since they are nocturnal, they were meant to symbolize night and the end of Daylight Savings Time. One common tradition during Halloween is to have bonfires, but these bonfires can be interrupted by mosquitoes and other pests. Bats are known to eat these bugs, therefore protecting Halloween celebrations. And while bats cannot communicate with living human beings, they are believed to be able to communicate with the dead, according to ancient religions.
It is also stated that vampires can turn into bats, meaning many bats are actually possibly vampires.
Whatever you choose to do this Halloween, remember the many symbols and traditions and why they exist, even if they are not listed here.
There are a lot of different symbols that make Halloween what it is and why we always come back for more. Even as times change and people celebrate the holiday differently, it is good to remember that it all goes back to the symbolism.
Cristin Dempsey is an English major and music minor from Eagan, Minn. She enjoys writing, playing the flute and swimming. After college she would like to pursue a career as an editor.