On October 31, millions of Americans descend upon neighborhoods in frantic search of candy. Both kids and adults clad themselves in costumes ranging from silly group outfits to scary clown costumes. In the US, Halloween is a highly commercialized holiday. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans spent around $6.9 billion on Halloween in 2015. Although Halloween is a widely celebrated holiday in the United States, not all countries celebrate Halloween the same way Americans do.
On the other side of the pond, the English celebrate a different holiday around Halloween time. On November 5th, Guy Fawkes Day is widely commemorated throughout the country. The holiday first started in 1605 when Guy Fawkes and a group of Catholic insurgents planned to blow up Parliament in an attempt to assassinate King James I of England. However, the king and his men quickly found out about the conspiracy and wasted no time in searching for Fawkes. He was shortly found underneath Parliament with 36 barrels of explosive gunpowder. Fawkes and his men were promptly executed and English citizens joyously celebrated the failed coup with bonfires and festivities. From that day on, Guy Fawkes Day was declared a national holiday.
Guy Fawkes Day, or Bonfire Night, and its celebration has grown more elaborate since its start in 1605. Today, the English celebrate November 5th by watching fireworks and burning effigies of political public figures.
Junior Samantha Aspin describes how her family celebrates Guy Fawkes Day, “We celebrate Bonfire Night with a large fire in the countryside. Typically, we have a ceremony in which we throw things in the fire that we want to forget. This symbolizes a new beginning.”
Other traditions associated with the holiday include constructing effigies of Guy Fawkes and burning the figure in bonfires. Beforehand, children carry their Guy Fawkes effigies through the streets and ask those walking by for a “penny for the guy.” The pennies they collect are then put towards the fireworks released later on in the day.
Aspin further comments on the holiday, “I love celebrating Guy Fawkes Night because it helps me connect with my English culture. It also allows me to connect with my family back in England as I know they are celebrating it too.”
In Ireland, citizens celebrate Halloween in much the same way Americans do. Senior Siobhan Healy describes the differences between the way Americans and Irish celebrate the holiday, “Halloween in Ireland is very similar to Halloween in the U.S, so the biggest difference is probably the history of the holiday and its religious roots….Halloween started as a Pagan holiday in Ireland called Samhain, so many of the traditions we see in the U.S. actually come from Ireland.”
Samhain was a festival celebrated by the Celtic people around 2,000 years ago. The festival marked the end of summer and the beginning of winter; on this day the Celtic people believed the spirits of the dead came back to visit them. Celtic people partook in traditions such as dressing in costumes to disguise themselves from the malice of evil spirits and lighting bonfires. Today, the Irish, along with Americans, continue the tradition of dressing in costumes. The Irish also use partake in feasts during Halloween. A popular food eaten during the holiday is Barmbrack, which is a bread baked with dried fruits. It is tradition to put things such as a penny or ring into the cake and whoever finds the items will have their future told. For example, the person who finds the ring will get married within the year.
Although Halloween originated with the Celtic people in Europe long ago, the holiday today is largely associated with the US and is a central part of our culture.