They come out in droves. When the sun goes down on Friday evening, the festivities begin. Since the old days, the tradition has been upheld by university students throughout the world. The weekend before Halloween is the time when costumes are donned. They range from classics such as cowboy and pirate to the always hip and happening, time-sensitive costumes such as Harambe or Ken Bone. When the time arises, we ask ourselves: where does this tradition originate? Why do college students get blasted on the weekend before or during Halloween? The answer, brought to you by The Eggplant, is found in ancient tradition, and today we will explore those roots.
We first have to look at the ancient manuscripts that describe the fun and revelry. We all know that Halloween began as All Hallow’s Eve, which is a Catholic version of the Celtic tradition of Samhain. It described the night on which spirits walked the Earth and people offered treats to dissuade any malicious intent as well as wore masks and costumes in order to walk among the spirits that returned. As colleges and universities arose, the weekend before Halloween became a time in which students really did embrace the ‘spirits.’ The party culture at universities was embraced every weekend, and Halloween became no exception.
Let’s observe an example of this culture from older days. We can find in contemporary texts that the students of the British Empire were known to engage in Halloweekend. In the 19th century, students dressed up in costumes reminiscent of the Victorian Era. Such examples included staples such as chimney sweep, imperial soldier, and railway conductor—very popular amongst the young folk. Students also dressed up as important figures of their time. Queen Victoria was a popular costume amongst students, but it was known to land them in some trouble. Students were also known to dress as the mysterious figure ‘Jack the Ripper.’ While it was hilarious for a night, the hundreds of students across the country that dressed up as him confused authorities and delayed the investigation for hundreds of years. We don’t know much about the drinking games amongst student populations, but we do know that games such as beer pong, flip cup, and tiddlywinks have their origin in Victorian era Halloweekend.
While popular during the Victorian era, Halloweekend was around before and after that time period. Celebrated throughout the world, Halloweekend became more popular as time progressed. Each year students would get more involved and there would be more damage on campuses across the country. Historians argue that Halloweekend is directly responsible for several events in history such as the London Beer Flood of 1814, the election of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1877, and the Great Emu War in 1932. The mischief of these young people led to hundreds of dollars in damages, but on the bright side, at least the students enjoyed themselves. We find one record of a student named Edward Phillips at Oxford University in 1899 stating, “You know, we may have caused a gigantic fire, but at least it was pretty lit.” In order to honor the spirits, the ‘celebrating’ students were known to walk the Earth going door to door looking for handouts. Halloweekend is a celebrated time throughout the world; wherever there are young people, cheap alcohol, and things to be pushed over, you will see the tradition of Halloweekend being upheld on campus. So, as we approach this next Halloweekend, please remember to celebrate with respect to the tradition.