The Nightmare Before Christmas - 1993, Tim Burton
In recent years, the Halloween party has been democratized in the whole world with a young population seeing it as another pretext than carnival or conventions to disguise themselves publicly without complex. Among the criticisms long raised, the argument that such an American holiday had no place in other countries often came up. Really?
We could talk about the cultural exchanges between countries since the dawn of time. But if you follow a little these articles, you must now have noticed that all cultures have always influenced each other. Each country has had some influence on others at some point in its existence, either linguistic or cultural.
Whether we like it or not, all cultures today are the product of many others, especially in a country that has received so many migrants like the United States.
With Halloween, we have an interesting case since this holiday is considered American primarily because they are the ones who made it popular again. However, it had almost reached its modern form long before it was exported to the New World.
Taking place on the night of October 31, Halloween is mostly celebrated by children and young adults who theoretically disguise themselves as a monster or something reminiscent of the macabre before going around the houses of the neighborhood to say the famous sentence "trick or treat. ". If the owner does not give them sweet treats, he is therefore exposed to more or less funny paybacks like eggs thrown on their walls.
To understand its origins, one must briefly explain the pre-Christian Celtic calendar. This was divided into two parts: a dark season and a light season. The new year was the first of November and marked the entry into the dark season. This one was linked to the world of spirits and gods, where supernatural events occurred most frequently due to a thinning of the barriers between their world and ours.
Sunset was the equivalent of our midnight: the end and the beginning of the day. The one of October 31, therefore, marks the end of the year and the entry into the spirit world for four days of transition (three on the continent) called festival of Samhain.
Led by the Druids and bringing together all classes of society, the goal was initially to celebrate the end of the harvests and the fighting for the winter truce, but weddings were also celebrated and problems or judicial advances were resolved then.
These days are outside the calendar and do not exist in the old or the new year. They exist only to facilitate the arrival in our world of the Aos Sí, the fairy creatures living in the other world, as well as the spirits of the dead who come to visit their loved ones. During these ritual days, a few offerings should be left near the fire for the deceased loved ones, but also outside the house so that the other spirits could survive the winter and leave the house alone.
After this dark and cold period, the summer solstice was therefore particularly celebrated for the return to the clear season, hence the importance of the shrines and festivals dedicated to it in many civilizations of Northern Europe.
The Celts did not have writing, and it is complex to estimate the date of the primal festivals of Samhain, but it is likely that it goes back to the beginning of the sedentarization of humans in these regions with celebrations less elaborate. On the other hand, we know that the name of Samhain is of Irish origin, and it is in Ireland that the festivals of Samhain will be most faithfully celebrated until they gave birth to Halloween after the Christianization of the country.
These festivities will be celebrated under this name for the last time around 560 during the establishment of Christianity in Europe by the assimilation and appropriation of local festivals. If the relationship with the gods and creatures was banished, the aspect of the celebration of the dead will be preserved to give birth to All Saints Day which honor the saints of this religion on October 31 before the commemoration of the deceased believers the next day.
In popular culture, this period will become the feast of the dead in general.
- For the record, initially, these festivals were celebrated on May 9, 11 and 13 and they had already replaced the Roman Lemuria which were to repel the souls of victims of violent or tragic death. As they could not disappear, they had to be hunted each year by the fathers of families by offering them black beans.
The word Halloween is actually the contraction of "All Hallows' Evening" already contracted as "Hallowe'en". Around the 12th century, bells were ringing for the souls of the dead and worshipers were invited to take to the streets, dressed in black to share homemade cakes to collectively remember the dead. If these celebrations took place throughout all Christian Europe, it was in German and Saxon countries that the 15th century saw groups of poor children starting to tour the houses to collect cakes in exchange for a prayer for their passed away relatives and the idea that they will eat the cakes as representatives of the deceased.
Danse Macabre - 1874, Camille de Saint-Saëns
At the same time, in these societies marked by death, collective prayers were organized in cemeteries with candlelight representing souls or being supposed to guide them to their previous home. Frequently, believers carried their candles in large turnips hollowed out and cut to let the light out. In France, popular belief was that during this night, the dead come out of their graves to dance in the cemeteries in macabre dances that will be symbolically represented on churches to illustrate the absence of privilege in the face of the inevitable end.
The most likely source of Halloween costumes comes from the many street performances made up of artists disguised as corpses from diverse classes of society to represent these macabre dances.
The most important change leading to the celebration we know today as a separate event from the church, came in the 16th century during the English Reformation (or Anglican Schism) when King Henry VIII severed ties with the Pope and the Christian church to create the Protestant church. The notion of purgatory disappearing, the festivals celebrating spirits became incompatible with new beliefs and these souls were then considered as simple demons or evil spirits. In addition, Halloween was gradually eclipsed by the popularity of the "Guy Fawkes Night" party on November 5, celebrating the failed assassination of King James I and the Lords in 1605, and where bonfires were lit all over England. Only Scotland and Ireland continued observing the traditions of October 31, as they considered them to be an important rite of passage for the deceased bringing together the different communities.
It was not until the 19th century, through massive waves of immigration from Scotland and Ireland that Halloween became popular in the United States, only to be truly celebrated throughout the country during the first decade of the 20th century. It was also during this period that the first versions of the now traditional Jack-o'-lantern (or Will-o'-the-wisp, the famous pumpkins emptied and carved before being illuminated by a candle) appeared in Ireland and then in Scotland. Contraction of "Jack of the lantern" and "Will of the wisp", their meaning varies from their origin, because, according to the creator, they either represent monsters or the spirits of the dead and are exposed either to protect themselves from the spirits or to frighten overly enterprising visitors.
In 1937, the Irish newspaper Limerick Chronicle already spoke of a competition in a pub for the best "crown of Jack McLantern". And we could surely go back even further to the origin of this tradition since, in 1856 in his book The British, Roman, and Saxon antiquities and folklore of Worcestershire, the folklorist Jabez Allies speaks of his childhood (he was born in 1787) when the children of peasants carved "Hoberdy's Lanterns" from turnips before lightening them up to chase away travelers and wanderers who spent the night. Indeed, if today we only sculpt pumpkins, during the 19th century, they carved turnips, gourds or squash according to social origins.
Will-o'-the-wisp is just one English name for wisps, like Jack-o'-lantern, friar's lantern, hobby lantern and hinkypunk. "Wisp" initially designating a torch made of an assemblage of rapidly burning materials, the name "Jack with the lantern" was actually a variation of "Will with the torch" which designated various very brief natural phenomena like lightning balls, the fires of St. Elmo, static electricity and ignis fatuus (modern Latin literally translated as "mad fire"). All these phenomena were attributed to fairies and mocking or evil spirits and were perfect to worry rural populations where they were often present at night. In particular, will-o'-the-wisps (or ignis fatuus) which manifest themselves thanks to the released gas from poorly isolated decomposing corpses. In the countryside and cemeteries of the time, they were therefore much more common than nowadays when this phenomenon has become even rarer than it already was.
Still according to Jabez Allies, the first name Jack would meanwhile come from a tale where a young man manages to trap the devil by deceiving him (as always, differently depending on the versions of the story) before releasing him against his promise to never take his soul. However, once dead, Jack does not go to heaven because he is too bad, but Satan also refuses to welcome him in hell since he has sworn not to take his soul. To mock him, Satan only gives him an underworld flame that will never go out so that he can orient himself. Jack, therefore, cuts a turnip to lodge his flame there and goes wandering for eternity with his lantern in order to reach a place where he can finally find rest.
However, although reliable sources are difficult to find, this name was probably used as early as 1660 to refer to guards patrolling at night before becoming a synonym for the Will-o'-the-wisp a few years later. However, it can be found in writing as early as 1704 in Jonathan Swift's social satire A Tale of a Tub: "Sometimes they would call Jack the Bald; sometimes Jack with a lantern; sometimes Dutch Jack".
These days, the spirit of Halloween is usually personified as a pumpkin-headed humanoid named Jack-o'-lantern. This imagery is actually from adaptations of the short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1820) by historian and novelist Washington Irving. The Headless Horseman, ghost of a German mercenary beheaded by a cannonball during the War of Independence and seeking his lost head, has been associated with Jack-o'-lantern in most of his film adaptations (or in the illustrations of the short story) because he was represented either carrying one to light up at night, or as a replacement for his head. The idea came from the original text when a crushed pumpkin is found where the main character met the Headless Horseman the day before. We can discover this image in particular in the second story of the 1949 Walt Disney feature film The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.
Halloween has been popularized all around the world in the 80s and 90s thanks to a period of explosion of popular culture (which we will come back to, of course). Among the various themes made more easily accessible by the multiplication of works, we can note the presence of tales about ghosts, monsters and a vision of a certain beauty in death in different genres.
In the most popular comedies, you could see monsters daily since 1969 with the TV series Scooby-Doo which brought a certain skeptical look at the fantastic testimonies. Then, in 1984 and 1989, with the two comic adventure films Ghostbusters which will be followed by two TV series and several video games. In 1991 and 1993, it was the two new film adaptations of the dark and cynical humor of The Addams Family, followed by a new animated series that made the license recognized internationally.
Thriller - 1982, Michael Jackson, John Landis
It was furthermore in 1982 that Michael Jackson was crowned the king of pop with his worldwide success Thriller, still today the best-selling album in the world with 66 million copies sold. Part of its success is due to its impressive fourteen minute music video directed by John Landis (Blues Brothers, Three Amigos!, National Lampoon's Animal House, Trading Places...) in which Vincent Price, acclaimed actor specialized in horror films since 1930, do the bass voice. His name also appears in the clip when they leave the cinema.
It is moreover the golden age of the universe of Tim Burton with in particular his Beetlejuice (1988), Batman (1989), Batman Returns (1992), Edward Scissorhands (1990) and Sleepy Hollow (1999), the whole supported by the superb compositions of Danny Elfman. But it was the immense success of his Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) and its romantic-Gothic tone with a visual inspired by German Expressionism that would have the most significant influence on the future popularity of Halloween internationally.
Another noteworthy influence is the popularity of the Halloween film series initiated by John Carpenter in 1978 (first film role of Jamie Lee Curtis) as the first film of the "slasher" genre (where the antagonist pursues his victims with a sharp weapon), heir to Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (with Janet Leigh, mother of Jamie Lee Curtis).
All these themes had already been covered for a long time by many great authors, just like the desire for novelty and the desire not to be restricted with local traditions was present in each generation. However, the simultaneous emergence of all these works (although as a minority) at a time, when the border between works for adults and children has blurred enough (as with the horror series for a young audience, Goosebumps, in 1992) made it possible to trivialize and play down these different visions of death and the supernatural.
Thus the idea of having fun with the monsters seemed less and less incongruous and Halloween swiftly became a simple pretext to have fun with friends by going out disguised as these famous popular characters, gradually returning to the countries where it was was born.
This is Halloween - The nIghtmare Before Christmas, 1993, Tim Burton