Halloween in the United States Essay

Words: 1701
Pages: 7
Subject: World History

Assignment Question

Create a 1-to-3-page, double-spaced paper describing emic and etic perspectives of the holiday of Halloween in the United States. The paper must be formatted in APA Style, with an APA-Style title page, page numbers in the upper right, headings, parenthetical in-text citations, and a reference page. The headings must be centered on the line and formatted in bold and in title case. Paraphrase or quote and cite from the textbook and from at least one additional scholarly, outside source to support your points in the paper. Include at least the following headings: Emic Perspectives of Halloween, Etic Perspectives of Halloween, and Conclusion. To write this paper, consider the following points: Page 288, in the Religion chapter (Chapter 11) of your textbook, asserts that, “. . . to study supernatural beliefs, anthropologists must cultivate a perspective of cultural relativism and strive to understand beliefs from an emic or insider’s perspective” (Henninger-Rener, 2020) Analyze the beliefs of people in the United States regarding the holiday of Halloween. Analyze beliefs about Halloween from both the emic, or insider’s perspective, and from the etic, or outsider’s or observer’s perspective. While writing on this subject, consider customs, traditions, rituals, or practices that some Americans participate in to celebrate Halloween. Describe some of those customs, traditions, rituals, or practices and their significance from both an emic, or insider’s, perspective and from an etic, or outsider’s or observer’s perspective. What meanings do the celebrations surrounding Halloween have for people celebrating the holiday? Do these meanings vary among celebrants? Do these meanings vary across sub-cultural groups, genders, or age grades or age sets? Feel free to explain Halloween from the perspective of Americans who do not choose to celebrate the holiday. What meanings does Halloween have for such Americans? What does it mean to reject a holiday or to choose to not celebrate a particular holiday? What meanings does that have for the individuals themselves and what meanings might be apparent from an etic, or outsider’s or observer’s perspective? What about celebrations that are described as alternatives to Halloween, such as harvest celebrations in the United States, for example, offered around or near October 31st? What is the significance of such celebrations for those participating and what meanings might be apparent from an etic, or outsider’s or observer’s perspective? References Henninger-Rener, S. (2020). Religion. In N. Brown, T. McIlwraith, & L. Tubelle de Gonzalez (Eds.), Perspectives: An open introduction to cultural anthropology (2nd ed., pp. 286- 303). American Anthropological Association.



Halloween, celebrated on October 31st, is a widely recognized and cherished holiday in the United States. This paper explores the emic and etic perspectives of Halloween, delving into the beliefs, customs, and practices associated with this holiday. Drawing upon the definition of cultural relativism and the distinction between emic and etic perspectives as outlined in the textbook “Perspectives: An Open Introduction to Cultural Anthropology” (Henninger-Rener, 2020), we will analyze Halloween traditions from the viewpoint of insiders (emic) and outsiders (etic). Additionally, we will examine the significance of Halloween for various sub-cultural groups and the alternative celebrations that arise during this season.

Emic Perspectives of Halloween

Emic perspectives of Halloween provide an insight into the beliefs and customs held by those who actively participate in the holiday. For many Americans, Halloween is a time for creativity and self-expression. It is an occasion for children and adults to dress up in costumes, often inspired by popular culture or personal interests. The act of dressing up allows individuals to embody characters or personas that may not align with their daily lives, providing a sense of escapism (Henninger-Rener, 2020).

Moreover, Halloween is celebrated with various customs, such as carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns, going door-to-door for trick-or-treating, and decorating homes with spooky motifs. These practices hold special meaning for those who partake in them. For children, trick-or-treating represents a joyous adventure to gather sweets, while carving pumpkins fosters creativity and can be a bonding experience for families (Henninger-Rener, 2020). From an emic perspective, Halloween carries a sense of community, fun, and an opportunity to indulge in treats and scares. The holiday is embraced as an annual tradition to make lasting memories with family and friends (Henninger-Rener, 2020). Families often come together to decorate their homes, carve pumpkins, and prepare costumes. This communal activity strengthens family bonds and allows for the creation of shared memories. The act of going door-to-door for trick-or-treating is not merely about collecting candy; it also fosters a sense of neighborly connection and community spirit.

Furthermore, the emic perspective of Halloween reveals a fascination with the supernatural and the macabre. Many Americans view Halloween as a time to explore the unknown and confront their fears. The popularity of haunted houses, horror movies, and ghost stories during this season reflects the willingness of participants to engage with the eerie and the mysterious. The holiday offers a unique opportunity for individuals to confront their fears in a controlled and playful environment.

Etic Perspectives of Halloween

Etic perspectives on Halloween offer an external viewpoint, allowing us to observe the holiday as anthropological observers. To some outsiders, Halloween might appear as a commercialized, consumer-driven event. The extensive marketing of costumes, decorations, and candy often leads to criticisms of excessive consumerism (Henninger-Rener, 2020). Critics argue that this may detract from the holiday’s original intentions and cultural significance. From an etic perspective, the commercialization of Halloween is evident. Department stores begin selling Halloween decorations and costumes as early as August, contributing to the perception that Halloween is driven by consumerism. The pressure to purchase elaborate costumes and decorations can be seen as a stressor for some families, as it increases the financial burden associated with the holiday. Additionally, the excessive use of single-use plastics for decorations and packaging contributes to environmental concerns.

For those who do not celebrate Halloween, it can be seen as a peculiar and, at times, uncomfortable tradition. The concept of dressing up in costumes and engaging in activities such as haunted houses and horror films might seem bizarre. From an etic perspective, Halloween’s emphasis on fear, the supernatural, and the macabre can be perplexing to those not familiar with its cultural context (Henninger-Rener, 2020). The fascination with fear and the macabre can be perceived as unusual and even unsettling to those who do not share in these customs. Alternative celebrations to Halloween, such as harvest festivals or trunk-or-treat events, are an example of how some individuals choose to celebrate differently. These alternative celebrations often reflect a desire to participate in seasonal festivities while avoiding the scarier or more commercial elements of Halloween. From an etic perspective, these alternative events provide insight into the diverse ways people adapt to or reject traditional Halloween customs (Henninger-Rener, 2020).

In recent years, an increasing number of communities have adopted alternative celebrations as a response to concerns about the commercialization and fear-based elements of Halloween. Harvest festivals, for example, offer a more family-friendly alternative. These events often feature games, pumpkin patches, and opportunities to learn about agriculture and farming. They are designed to provide a wholesome and educational experience for families while maintaining the spirit of the season. Similarly, trunk-or-treat events, where cars are decorated, and candy is distributed from vehicle trunks in a controlled environment, address safety concerns associated with traditional trick-or-treating.


Halloween in the United States is a multi-faceted holiday with diverse meanings for its participants. Emic perspectives reveal the holiday’s significance in terms of creativity, community, and shared experiences (Henninger-Rener, 2020). For insiders, Halloween is an occasion to embrace imaginative traditions, share fun moments, and enjoy treats. It is a time for individuals to express themselves and connect with others through costumes and communal activities. The celebration of Halloween from an emic perspective emphasizes its role in building and strengthening social bonds.

Etic perspectives, on the other hand, illuminate the commercialization and cultural divide associated with Halloween. The holiday may be perceived as strange or excessive by outsiders, with criticisms of consumerism and fear-based elements (Henninger-Rener, 2020). From this viewpoint, Halloween can appear to prioritize materialism over tradition and community. The fascination with fear and the macabre might be seen as an unconventional aspect of American culture. In conclusion, Halloween, as viewed from emic and etic perspectives, underscores the complexity of cultural traditions and their reception. While some embrace it with enthusiasm and reverence, others may stand apart, viewing it with detachment or skepticism. This diversity reflects the richness of American cultural practices and the dynamic interplay between insiders and outsiders in the anthropological study of traditions and beliefs. Halloween is not just a holiday; it is a cultural phenomenon that reflects the evolving values and norms of American society. As participants and observers continue to engage with Halloween, its emic and etic perspectives will undoubtedly continue to evolve and adapt to the changing cultural landscape.


Henninger-Rener, S. (2020). Religion. In N. Brown, T. McIlwraith, & L. Tubelle de Gonzalez (Eds.), Perspectives: An open introduction to cultural anthropology (2nd ed., pp. 286-303). American Anthropological Association.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

When is Halloween celebrated in the United States?

Halloween is celebrated on October 31st every year.

What are some common customs and traditions associated with Halloween in the U.S.?

Common customs include dressing up in costumes, carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns, trick-or-treating, and decorating homes with spooky themes. Haunted houses and horror movies are also popular.

What is the significance of Halloween for Americans who celebrate it?

Halloween has various meanings for celebrants. It’s a time for creativity, community, and shared experiences. People dress up to express themselves, enjoy treats, and confront their fears in a playful environment.

Are there alternative celebrations to Halloween in the U.S.?

Yes, some communities host alternative events like “Trunk-or-Treat” or harvest festivals as a response to safety concerns or discomfort with traditional Halloween customs.

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