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Fear of Halloween

Understanding Halloween-Related Phobias

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Updated October 23, 2012

The Halloween that we know and love (or fear!) today is a relatively modern American tradition. Some cultures around the world have begun to adopt Halloween traditions such as trick-or-treating, pumpkin carving and haunted houses, but Halloween remains a major holiday only in the United States. Halloween in the United States is often frankly and intentionally scary, and it can feel overwhelming, especially for those who suffer from Samhainophobia, or the fear of Halloween.

History of Halloween

Although the modern conception of Halloween is an American idea, the holiday is rooted in ancient pagan traditions, particularly those of the Celtic Druids. The festival of Samhain was celebrated as early as 2,000 years ago to mark the night before the Celtic New Year. October 31, the last day of the Celtic year, was seen as a time when the veil between the living and the dead was thin, and ghosts could walk among the living for both good and evil. The Samhain festival was centered around massive bonfires, ritual sacrifices to the gods, and fortune-telling. Participants generally wore costumes made from animal skins.

By the Middle Ages, Christianity had spread across most of the ancient Celtic lands, and Christian rituals were blended with older pagan traditions. November 1 became the new date to celebrate All Martyrs' Day, which was moved from May 13, while November 2 was declared All Souls' Day. Gradually, the two merged into a singular All Saints Day, celebrated on November 1, and October 31 became All Hallows Eve. Although the name changed, October 31 celebrations largely mirrored those of the old Celtic holiday.

All Hallows Eve, now generally known as Halloween, came to the United States with the early colonists. The New England colonies generally eschewed Halloween, as it was in conflict with the colonists' strict Protestant beliefs. In the southern colonies, however, the celebration flourished. The Old World traditions blended with the beliefs of the Native Americans, creating an all-new festival. Ghost stories, mischief-making, plays, songs and dance became important parts of the festivities.

By the mid-19th century, a wave of new immigrants wholeheartedly embraced the festivities, bringing their own traditions and further influencing the development of the holiday. For example, Irish immigrants brought the idea of carving turnips on All Hallows Eve, which evolved into a pumpkin-carving tradition in the United States. Most of the ancient supernatural connotations were dropped during this period as Halloween became more of a community-based, family-friendly party. Grotesque and frightening costumes were largely replaced by more festive creations.

By the 1950s, Halloween had become largely child-centered. Most Halloween parties took place in schools or private homes, removing much of the community festival feel. Trick-or-treating, once a common practice for beggars in Europe, became a way for the community to remain involved, even for those who did not have children.

Over the next decades, however, Halloween gradually evolved to include scares. Although many of the frightening elements were based in ancient myths and legends, they were added simply as entertainment. The earliest haunted attractions were small home or community-based projects with relatively simplistic costumes and props. These attractions expanded Halloween's popularity to include teens and adults as well as children. The Jaycees haunted houses of the early 1970s and the 1973 debut of Knott's Berry Farm's "Knott's Scary Farm" event ushered in a new age of intensely frightening Halloween events.

The Phobia

The fear of Halloween is a complex phobia that may have many different causes. The holiday's pagan roots and traditional association with ghosts and witchcraft may cause fear, especially for those with religious conflicts. People who are undergoing a crisis of faith, questioning their religious beliefs, may be at an increased risk for this type of Halloween phobia.

In some people, the fear of Halloween is rooted not in ancient beliefs and practices, but in modern traditions. Some people genuinely do not enjoy the feeling of being startled or scared, yet modern Halloween traditions rely on scares as a major portion of the evening's entertainment. Even if you skip the haunted attractions, ghost stories and other obviously-frightening events, people may try to startle you at costume parties and other Halloween get-togethers.

For some people, the fear of Halloween is based on other specific phobias. Ghosts, witches, vampires, zombies, blood, gore, darkness, lightning, masks, animatronics, tombstones, clowns and loud noises are just a few of the basic Halloween staples. If you have a phobia of these or other relatively common elements, you may be triggered even by small children who are trick-or-treating in costumes and makeup.

Combating the Fear of Halloween

Working through the fear of Halloween is important, as it is one of the biggest holidays in the United States. Those who fear the holiday may have difficulty at work or school events as well as social activities. But how to cope with the fear depends on a variety of factors including the nature of your phobia, its severity, and your personal triggers.

If your fear is relatively mild, you may be able to combat it with basic coping techniques. Visualizing yourself successfully making it through a feared event, using purposeful breathing to calm your nerves, and attending with a supportive friend or relative can help bring down anxiety levels.

If your fear is more severe, however, then professional assistance may be required. Your therapist will help you determine exactly what you are afraid of, and create a treatment plan to work through your fears. Those with severe religion-based phobias might do well to seek spiritual counseling from a trusted religious leader, either instead of, or in addition to, professional therapy.

Although the fear of Halloween can feel isolating and overwhelming, the phobia generally responds well to therapeutic techniques. With a bit of hard work, there is no reason for your phobia to take over your life.

Sources:

American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

History of Halloween. History.com. Retrieved October 19, 2012 from http://www.history.com/topics/Halloween

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