Halloween Around the World & How to Have a Sustainable Holiday

10.30.2009
by satu

A Halloween Story: Halloween Lands in the Arctic

Halloween is an inherently American holiday, like Valentine’s Day or Thanksgiving. During the last few decades, however, it has slowly emerged as a holiday celebrated around the globe, but like most imported ideas, it has gone through adaptations and transformations to fit cultures and customs. A case in point is Finland, a Northern European nation, a country with a good record of sustainability and high level of environmental consciousness and where Halloween has been modified to fit the arctic climate and dominant countercultures.

Halloween imageThe essence of a holiday when adapted to another culture generally stays the same, although when Valentine’s Day was imported to Finland, something went horribly wrong and what was supposed to be a holiday for lovers was translated into “Friendship Day.” Valentine’s Day in Finland became a mainstream holiday in the 1980s, but Halloween had to wait until the last decade of last century to reach the masses. As this was still in the pre-internet era, Halloween first came to be known through American Donald Duck comics, read by virtually every kid in the 80s, but in the 1990's the commercial potential was recognized by two sources with two distinct interests: the national Postal Service and the largest beer manufacturer in the country. The former was inspired by the huge revenues generated by holiday greeting card traffic and the latter had the intention of profiling Halloween as a drinking holiday, easy enough to market to a nation already prone to liquid celebrations. For better or for worse, neither campaign succeeded in their dubious goals, but Halloween was nonetheless already on its way to the public consciousness.

As it became apparent that Halloween had landed for good, the authorities contemplated on translating the name; Pumpkin Holiday and Ghosts’ Eve were among the candidates, but the name Halloween stuck. The focus of the holiday however shifted from dressing up in funny costumes and carving pumpkins and concentrated mainly on the aspect of horror. Children mostly dress up in scary costumes, the ghost sheet being an obvious favorite, and in the capital city of Helsinki Halloween events include scary mask contests and clubs gear up for the official night of horror. The quintessential Halloween tradition, trick or treating, has not taken foot in the country, and carving pumpkins on Halloween is not common. So why has the element of horror been adopted as the all-encompassing theme for the holiday? If any of you responsible travelers have made your way up there, you should know that Finland has a huge heavy metal scene and more importantly, about a third of the year is spent in almost complete darkness; in the northern regions the sun doesn't rise at all during the long winter months. Celebrating doom and gloom hence comes naturally for the Finns, whereas dressing up as superheroes and bunnies, not to mention knocking on strangers’ doors, doesn’t.

Sustainable Halloween

As much as our sustainable travel crew at Global Basecamps loves celebrating Halloween in cozy California, the massive quantities of little candy wrappers and one-time-use costumes made of synthetic materials have turned the holiday into an environmentalist’s nightmare. We suggest our fellow responsible travelers find costumes in thrift stores or grandmas’ closets, minimize their consumption of individually-wrapped candy, buy organic pumpkins and compost the remains.

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