Halloween, as an event, seems to be growing each year in Ethiopia, specifically in Addis Ababa. What originally begun within the expat community in Addis has now spread to local young people and event goers. Celebrating this festival are also those who have returned from abroad. So much for ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do.’
Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (Pronounced sow-in). The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago, mostly in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter; a time of year that was often associated with death.
Celts believed that on the night before the New Year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead become blurred. On the night of October 31, they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.
This practice has evolved beyond Celtic traditions and is currently being practiced by Asians and Africans alike, making one question if the celebration is based on the same beliefs or if it is a popular-culture marketing scheme. Capitalism has turned the holiday into a profitable set of events worth millions. And Ethiopia has joined in on this culture of consumerist holiday, where the partakers simply indulge in the festivity without believing in the message it holds.
Capitalism and globalization have given the world a sort of shared culture that usually goes one way, since pop culture is overly dominated by the westerners, their culture is adopted by the rest of the world, as opposed to our culture disseminating just as much as theirs.
Some people compare Halloween with the Ethiopian holiday Buhe, in that both holidays are celebrated at the end of a season and involve children going door to door. However, buhe does not involve Halloween’s tradition of dressing-up in costumes and using spooky images as its aesthetic. The older generation deems the westerner’s holiday as a pagan holiday that goes against Ethiopian values.
The Reporter talked to civilians on their thoughts about the new holiday in Ethiopia.
“I don’t understand why out of all the traditions we can adopt from the west, we would choose the most horrid looking one. In all my years alive on this earth, I have never seen a holiday that serves no one. Why would anyone want to dress up in scary attires to eat candy, it does not make sense to me. I think the youth is better off without it,” said Almaz Terefe, a middle-aged woman unimpressed by a sight of a Halloween party poster.
“The younger generation is not as pressed about the whole thing as their parents are,” said Satyana, a young girl excited about one of the Halloween parties taking place on Friday.
“People keep criticizing me for participating in such kind of events, claiming that it isn’t my culture and that it is too evil of a celebration. Honestly, I have been exposed to western culture ever since I was a child and I think I speak for everyone when I say culture has stopped being confined to geographical locations. We spent the better half of our day glued to our phones exposed to cultures outside of our borders and as humans we mimic the things we see. It is only natural that young people find ways to profit off of something that has been marketed to them since childhood,” Satyana said.
Older Ethiopians have never been much for conformity, especially when culture is involved. As a country not so keen on ghoulish things it comes as a shock to most parents that their children are happily partaking in a practice that would not have been accepted in their time.
“It is so hypocritical the way we are killing our beliefs, traditions and cultures to buy into anything that comes from outside Africa. Even if that thing goes against everything we once believed in, it doesn’t matter as long as it comes from the white man’s land,” said Almaz.
“The media they consume is at fault here, they want to be like the movies they’ve seen. At this rate, the time might come when nothing amongst the youth will be authentically Ethiopian anymore. That’s normal in some ways but one has got to be careful what they assimilate into their practices,” Almaz added.
Other civilians are nonchalant about the whole thing, claiming just because it isn’t for them doesn’t mean it isn’t for everyone else.
“I don’t care about the holiday but whoever does should be free to do so without such criticism. It’s all in good fun if you think about it; if we are forced to dress like westerners at work, then I don’t see why we can’t celebrate holidays of theirs. One cannot simply pick and choose plus criticize cultures and practices they want to take from another place,” said Kirubel Shimeles, after contemplating what the holiday meant for him.
Yes, the world is a global village, and there is nothing wrong with culture sharing. Sadly, in Africa, it is not sharing but rather destroying our culture, beliefs, traditions and way of life to conform into the western world’s mold. What many people don’t realize is that Africa is seen as an untapped market for many businesses. With the celebration of Halloween comes the branded hats, costumes, and the rest of the paraphernalia one would need to buy in order to join in the festivities.
Consumerist cultures such as this have a way of exponentially growing through time; what these celebrations are selling is not the tradition of hallows eve, rather it is selling the gimmicks involved as a glamorous life style out of a movie. These events will keep expanding by the year and before we know it Halloween would be reduced to a series of events centered on profit.