SPEARFISH | Something wicked is on tap for the next Geek Speak at Black Hills State University, when Courtney Huse Wika talks about the evolution of Halloween in America.
Her program, “Something Wicked This Way Comes: The History, Myths, and Rituals of Halloween” begins at 4 p.m. Thursday in Jonas Hall room 110 on the BHSU campus.
Husa Wika is the director of the Honors Program and English professor at Black Hills State University. Her lecture will conclude with a costume contest.
Every year on Oct. 31, millions of Americans dress in costume, decorate homes with candlelit pumpkins, and take children door to door to collect candy from neighbors. Halloween has become a commercialized $6 billion holiday in the U.S. alone.
But how did it evolve from a celebration of harvests and acknowledging ancestors to the contemporary traditions held today?
According to Huse Wika, American immigrants shaped the celebration of Halloween by incorporating many practices from various cultures. She says learning about the transformation from ancient pagan and Christian festivals to a night of play, costumes, feasts, bonfires, and trick-or-treating is vital to understanding the society that we live in today.
“Anytime we have the opportunity to learn the history of a cultural practice, we benefit from the new knowledge and a wider, global understanding of cultures different than our own,” Huse Wika said.
There are differences between Halloween and its religious and spiritual counterparts. “Samhain, All Hallow’s Eve, and All Saint’s Day are distinct holidays from Halloween, which is a secular celebration,” said Huse Wika. “While Halloween borrows traditions and rituals from Samhain, it is meant as a light-hearted event, while Samhain remains a spiritually observed holiday.”
Halloween hasn’t always been so light-hearted. According to Huse Wika, during the Great Depression, the dispirited youth upset the tradition of inconsequential pranking and mischief by vandalizing and performing mean-spirited acts that were violent and destructive in many communities. Leaders decided to act and began offering alternative festivities for the youth to participate in, such as costume parties and games that remain a staple in American Halloween traditions.
Huse Wika said dressing in costumes can be a beneficial outlet for people.
“We can choose to be anyone or anything we please in a socially sanctioned display of identity,” said Huse Wika. “Some theorists even find the night to be socially cathartic, as for one night at least, the ‘monsters’ are easily recognizable.”
“Even as an adult,” says Huse Wika, “Halloween still feels like a night where magical things can happen.”