There was an article in yesterday’s paper about the religious perils of Halloween. So I decided I would do a little research for today’s post. I found people who claimed that Halloween traditions came from the virgin sacrificing pagans who would burn human fat made candles in their pumpkins to ward off spirits and revel in hedonistic rituals while worshipping the god of the dead. I read about Catholics who replaced pagan holidays with catholic holidays to help boost their patronage and then there’s begging for soul cakes on All Saint’s Day in exchange for promises to pray for one’s ancestors to hurry out of purgatory and make it to heaven. Of course, there’s Druids who celebrated their deceased ancestors by honoring the harvest and the end of the farming season and the beginning of the cold and waning of the sun. I read about fairies playing pranks in villages like tipping outhouses and scattering the ash can driving organizations to push good wholesome Halloween parties where the kids bob for apples and wear costumes and dance. Stuart Schneider writes in 'Halloween in America' (1995) “…that neighborhood committees and local city clubs such as the Boy Scouts mobilized to organize safe and fun alternatives to vandalism. School posters of the time call for a “Sane Halloween.” Good children were encouraged to go door to door and receive treats from homes and shop owners, thereby keeping troublemakers away… By the 1930’s, these “beggar’s nights” were enormously popular and being practiced nationwide, with the “trick or treat” greeting widespread from the late 1930s." Novelist Wesley Lowe writes perhaps the most interesting piece yet about witches and their broomsticks. “When setting out for a Sabbath, witches rubbed a sacred ointment onto their skin. This gave them a feeling of flying, and if they had been fasting they felt even giddier. Some witches rode on horseback, but poor witches went on foot and carried a broom or a pole to aid in vaulting over streams. In England when new witches were initiated they were often blindfolded, smeared with flying ointment and placed on a broomstick. The ointment would confuse the mind, speed up the pulse and numb the feet. When they were told "You are flying over land and sea," the witch took their word for it.”
For me - Halloween is an excuse to dress and act as one’s alter ego for one night. It’s a reason to get outside and talk to each other and survey the front yard of the neighborhood. It is the last reason to mow the yard. It is a welcomed indulgence for our kids. It is the only time to invite a child to immerse down into the messy guts of a gourd and scoop it all out with bare hands squeezing the slimy seeds through little fingers, seeds that will be toasted with a dash of salt and eaten while they’re still warm. It is the first celebration of a the bountiful harvest ending on Thanksgiving Day when the harvest gives way to shopping till we’ve bought enough for baby Jesus and retailers to be rolling in their jubilation. It is a reason to light candles and cackle into the cool night air. It is the beginning of a long dark night where we cocoon in sweaters and turtle necks and the sandbox is covered until the world unwraps and blooms again.