YES - Seb Charleton
Halloween is a glorious celebration of the Pagan spirit haunting modern culture. Once a year, on a gloomy October evening, it erupts into the open, dissolving conventions, upending everyday life.
This tradition, often crudely dismissed as American imperialism, magnificently blends the sacred and the secular. Halloween can trace its lineage to Samhain — a Celtic celebration marking the end of the harvest season. This was a time when the veil between life and death was thought to be at its most fragile. Bonfires were lit to ward off the dead, and winter preparations began. Gradually, Samhain merged with Catholic feasts to become Halloween and, following significant Irish migration to America, achieved global prominence. As it evolved, Halloween never renounced its mysterious and macabre roots. Ghost turnips, the grotesque progenitors of the Halloween pumpkin, are still preserved in the National Museum of Ireland!
Halloween is one of the few Western festivals that retains a communal character. Though I adore both, Christmas and Easter are (for most secular Brits) confined to the four walls of the family home. Nowadays, they are observed through rampant consumerism rather than worship or charity. In contrast, Halloween is a vibrant, bustling affair. It spills out of the house into the street and is marked by wonderful inter-generational mingling. Gaggles of excited children flock to lavishly decorated homes — judged by a commitment to spookiness, rather than market value. Admittedly, Halloween is hardly modest — I’m sure the confectionery industry makes a killing out of it — but its chameleonic nature and pagan roots allow it to shrug off allegations of materialistic hypocrisy.
For students, Halloween represents both continuity and change. It marks an end to the meaningless drudgery of clubbing and hangovers — but also signifies an excuse to double down on drunken debauchery. Jeans and crop tops are swapped for fangs, cloaks, and heavy face paint. The boundaries of modern fashion crumble away as the inner id bursts forth. Every year, the intriguing sides of our friends are revealed by their shocking outfits.
Like all good things, Halloween is also an affront to health and safety culture. Children roam the streets unsupervised, amassing vast quantities of sugary foods. Later, adults, adorned in garish costumes, totter around town centres cackling like a coven of witches. Even for the sedate, Halloween is a lot of fun. You can curl up on the sofa, enjoying a ghost story or scary movie, gorging on chocolates whilst you’re at it. For one night, hedonism reigns, enchanting us under its magic syrupy spell.
Decadence aside, Halloween possesses a plucky charm that even the old-fashioned moralist can appreciate. As trick-or-treaters trickle onto the streets, the atomisation of society is swiftly reversed. People from all walks of life exchange jokes and sweets. In a matter of hours, Halloween has tackled the intractable problems of loneliness and intergenerational misunderstanding. You can always rely on a pagan ritual to get people out of the house!
Sadly, there will always be a small collection of philistines unable to appreciate the dark glamour of Halloween. No problem. Trick-or-treaters only target the houses with pumpkins. If you do not want to get involved, simply do not display one. Though opting out is allowed, I believe everyone should immerse themselves in the mischievous ambience of Halloween. Much of the hatred it is subject to originates from a knee-jerk fear of its dark power. Halloween jars against the tedium of modernity, boldly celebrating the cycles of life. By dressing in the garb of evil, we mock death and laugh at the artifice of civilisation, satirising our own personas through fake blood and black velvet.
Despite its commercialisation, Halloween retains a distinctly spiritual character; it enables us to connect to a deep shamanic impulse. Bash it all you like, this ancient tradition will last until the end of time.
NO - Georges Toulouse
As hollow as many holidays are increasingly becoming — Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s day — Halloween gets the prize: there is very literally no reason why anyone should celebrate it. Halloween for people of university age is the best time of the year to get all done up, to all agree to go out, and subsequently « get sloshed ». It’s the one time a year where it’s universally accepted to dress up like a sexy nurse or a cowboy — how fun is that? Well, I would argue, it’s not really about the fun.
For a brief history lesson, Halloween is seen as deriving from the pagan Celtic holiday of the new year, and developed into a celebration of the dead in Ireland and other parts of Europe when it was Christianized, then spreading to the United States through migration. In the US, Halloween morphed into a strange yearly consumption orgy, its origins being completely erased to instead convince everyone everywhere into buying candy to distribute and costumes to dress up in. One would therefore think that in St Andrews, Europe, and the world generally, we have enough local traditions and folklore of our own to not be forced to import and adopt the grossly consumeristic American Halloween: particularly when traditional variations of the holiday existed before the American takeover.
For most people partaking in Halloween at St Andrews, they’ll buy a cheap one-wear costume on Amazon, maybe make up their flat with equally cheap Amazon decorations, and then go party. It’s a holiday done by convention almost: there’s no point to it. Think about it — do you think of the dead, or anything else honestly, on the thirty-first of October, or are you more worried about how good you look in your costume?
Even Valentine’s Day, the result of an impressive commercial highjacking of how love can be expressed, can be credited with having maintained some significance as it became a commercial bonanza. Halloween on the other hand has well and truly become a shell of a holiday, having no point to it other than the celebrations themselves. I would argue that nothing differentiates it from an average night out other than the excessive number of American Psychos, or Barbies and Kens, roaming the streets (allow me to discourage people from overdoing those costumes this year, be a smidge more original please).
Generally, when one reaches the point of a holiday being so denatured that there is literally no point to it, that it doesn’t celebrate anything beyond itself, it’s obsolete. The entire point of holidays is that they’re culturally-specific and that they serve a purpose — nowadays, Halloween is just an excuse to dress up and get drunk.
With that in mind, I offer to you my two-pence: let’s bring back the local traditions of Halloween, let’s get back to the initial idea of the holiday, that of remembering the dead in a fun way. That doesn’t mean we should abandon the partying — I’m no Puritan — but that we should strive to bring significance back to a holiday which has completely lost it. Start carving lanterns out of the more traditional turnips, light bonfires, think of the dead, and see the holiday as being a way of having fun with them. Bring back the paganism which companies have killed.
Illustration by: Holly Ward