Sunday, 28 October 2012

The dispersal of Halloween through American media


One of the most interesting things about folklore, I find, is how it disseminates throughout a region and why certain alterations occur depending on the location. Throughout history, one of the most effective ways for folkloric traditions to cross country boundaries was through invasion. War and settlement of new cultures in a culture brought with it stories, deities, spirits and rites that are incorporated into the country that has been invaded. When the Vikings came to England they brought Odin, who the Anglo Saxons knew as Woden or Wotan and the legend of the Wild Hunt. During the subsequent invasion of England by the Roman Empire, the polytheistic gods that were worshipped as a result of the Norse settlement were vilified and denounced as devilish by the now Christian invaders. We now have a stewpot full of different folklore beliefs as a result of these invasions, but in a modern world where empires are no linger rising and falling, can folklore still be incorporated into different cultures?

I've written before about the origins of Halloween, which has a rich and interesting history. The Celtic tradition of Samhain has evolved into the Halloween we see now, and while it's always been observed in the United Kingdom, it's the United States of America that now has the monopoly on this ancient festival. Around this time of your you can't move for the Halloween specials on TV, showcasing America as a country that's fanatical about putting on masks and going trick or treating, and it's precisely American television that is responsible for dispersing Halloween to other cultures.

Croatia is just one of the countries that has recently begun to embrace the tradition as a result of American media. It's mostly the children who have taken to Halloween, going from house to house enthusiastically crying "ńĆasti ili pati!" meaning "treat us or suffer!" while dressed in costume. Croatia may have already been primed to embrace the tradition because of the existing holiday Poklade, a holiday in which people wear masks and costumes and host flamboyant carnivals in its honour.

In Italy there has been a history of the Catholic Church suppressing anything connected to All Saints Day, a tradition derived from paganism. In the 1990's Halloween started to become popular in Italy due to American shows like The Simpsons with their Treehouse of Horror episodes.

Similarly, Halloween has seen a surge in popularity since 2005 because of programming like the Disney Channel airing Halloween specials. Unsurprisingly, the tradition isn't recognised by the Orthodox Church, but has been embraced by the country's youth.

Disney could have had something to do with the rise in popularity of Halloween in Japan, where Tokyo Disneyland puts on special Halloween celebrations. In recent history Japan has become more interested with Western culture in general and it's not uncommon to see Halloween decorations in the high street. However, trick or treating is not practised and costume-wearing is generally limited to private parties and bars.

We can see that media has an effective way of transmitting folklore traditions such as Halloween to wider cultures throughout the globe. Media could well be the modern equivalent of the invasions of old, where America takes on the role of the Vikings who settle their empire using TV, movies and the internet instead of brute force.