Samhainophobia is the fear of Halloween or the fear of the festival of the dead. The term Samhainophobia originates from ‘Samhuin’ meaning summer’s end. The Samhain festival was celebrated by the Celts for marking the transition between summer and winter. The word Samhuin has Irish-Scottish-Gaelic roots generally meaning ‘All Hallows Eve’.
Many people, especially children, are known to be terrified of Halloween. While western countries have made Halloween a fun festival spelling booming business for candy makers and Halloween merchandise sellers; for anxious minded individuals it can be a harrowing time. Come October, people and stores start decorating their yards with skeletons, evil zombies, and other realistically gory stuff. Naturally, for children suffering from Samhainophobia, it is not a happy time. Many refuse to sleep alone or might be unable to express themselves only reacting in the form of tantrums, crying or screaming fits.
Causes of Samhainophobia
Samhainophobia could be triggered by different factors. However the most important reason is a negative or traumatic episode related to Halloween.
As soon as people and stores start displaying Halloween items, anxious minds create a flight or fight response – it is the brain’s way of protecting the individual from further negative news or trauma. Such a feeling of anxiety is heightened each time the individual sees a decorated home or store with displays of ghosts, witches and scary masks.
The fear of Halloween is often related to the fear of spiders or arachnophobia since spiders or cobwebs are often used for Halloween decorations.
Knocking on strangers’ doors for trick or treating could also be a cause of anxiety for some children. Some of them might have been “tricked instead of being treated”- the trauma caused by that episode could have instilled lifelong fear about Halloween. Often, parents spend a lot of time teaching their children never to go to strange homes or talk to unknown people. On Halloween night, they encourage the child to do precisely that. This can confuse the child and increase its stranger anxiety.
Halloween is also generally celebrated in the evening or when it is dark outside. A child afraid of the dark might be extremely reluctant to go outdoors, but might be coerced into going by parents or siblings.
It is also believed that Halloween is a time when the “spirits roam the earth freely”. A person having a terrible fear of ghosts’ phobia could also develop Samhainophobia around this time of the year.
Often people with social anxiety or fear of performing before groups could develop a fear of Halloween as they are forced to participate in social activities against their wishes.
Halloween is also a time for carving sticky, gooey pumpkins into scary faces. While some kids might be excited to do so, having it lit with a candle might create an eerie effect leading to the opposite reaction in the child.
Finally, popular culture, TV shows, and movies like Halloween (where a deranged killer goes on a killing spree on Halloween night), could all add up to this fear.
Symptoms of fear of Halloween phobia
Some kids might not be able to express their fears about Halloween clearly and parents often brush them off as irrational or silly. However, the fear of Halloween is a very real phobia which parents must take seriously. There are many physical and emotional symptoms of this phobia. These are normally seen closer to the festival and include:
- Panic attacks- nausea, dizziness, accelerated heart rate, rapid breathing etc
- Mere reference to Halloween could cause the child to feel terrified. S/he might have a full blown anxiety attack: screaming, trying to run away or hide, refusing to sleep alone, avoiding shops/houses which display Halloween stuff, refusing to go to school, avoiding trick-or-treating, fearing the dark etc.
Overcoming the fear of Halloween
Parents must understand and acknowledge the child’s anxiety about Halloween instead of ignoring it. They must deal with the child very patiently. They must try and find out what is causing the child’s fear and then try to avoid those triggers. Parents must not force the child into trick-or-treating but must try and make things easier for the child by choosing to go out during daytime, or avoiding shops and malls having scary displays.
If children are having nightmares about Halloween, parents must try and comfort/assure them that it is only a dream. If needed, professional help must be sought from a psychiatrist.
In case of adults with Samhainophobia, it is important to gradually desensitize self to the triggers. This can be done by thinking about the object of fear, or seeing pictures of ghouls, witches/ghosts or trying to visit the aisle of shops with Halloween merchandise until one is able to do so without having a panic attack.
Talking to friends, family members and trained therapists can also help one to overcome the fear of Halloween phobia once and for all.