Halloween is finally here and OMG we are so stoked! On October 31, children dress up as Batman, the Joker, Wonder Woman or some other favorite character; go to parties or walk their neighborhoods with jack o’lanterns full of sweets, even on a school night! Plus, we love seeing all the crazy decorations in windows and on front porches.
Adults dress up too, but it takes on more intense dimensions. Grownups who are perfectly tame every other time of the year, get positively Freudian exploring their unfulfilled desires on Halloween. That “dominatrix” is our teller at the bank. Doesn’t that guy in the toga help us at the post office? See, that’s why we love Halloween. It feeds our fantasies.
Going back in time, Halloween is fascinating because it has lots of practices that hearken back to its pagan origins. For example, the Halloween tradition of bobbing for apples reminds us of the Roman invasion of England. As part of Roman paganism, they brought an apple tree, symbolic of Pomona, Goddess of Plenty. During an annual festival, young marriage-minded people bit into apples floating in water. Whoever bit the apple was next to marry, according to beliefs.
But it’s really the Celts we have to thank for Halloween. They were an ancient people who lived in the areas of modern-day Ireland, northern France and in the UK. Halloween’s pagan roots go back thousands of years to the Celtic Fire Festival of Samhain, which recognized the end of the harvest season and the start of their new year on November 1.
During this festival, pagans wore costumes and lit fires to keep the bad spirits away. (Keep that in mind when you’re donning your Dracula fangs!) With the dark nights of winter representing death, the Celts believed that on October 31, the dead returned to walk among the living. Sounds kind of zombie-ish, right?
(And since we’re on this ancestors-walking-among-the-living track, it’s a good time to mention Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebrations on November 2. It’s an ancient tradition practiced by Mexicans, living inside and outside the country. It’s fun, colorful, vibrant and full of cultural relevance. Even if you don’t share Mexican heritage, feel free to paint a skull on your face in bright colors and enjoy the Day of the Dead festivities in your community!)
Fast-forward to the 8th century when Pope Gregory expanded the feast of All Martyrs to include all the saints, piggybacking off the Celts’ New Year of November 1. As Christianity spread and overtook paganism, new observances merged with old rituals to become closely associated with the new faith. A perfect example is Halloween.
The word, Halloween or Hallowe’en allegedly dates from before the 16th century and draws from its early Christian past. In old Scottish, Hallowe’en translates as “All Hallows’ (holy) Even” referring to “All Hallows’ Evening,” the day before All Hallows Day, a solemn occasion in which all of the Catholic Church’s heavenly saints were honored. By the 18th century, Halloween shows up with the spelling we know today.
Eventually, Halloween jumps across the Big Pond. In Colonial America, there were “tricks” through mischief-making and ghost stories told by Native Americans. Although most Americans didn’t honor Halloween because of their Protestant faith, people in the southern colonies as well as in Maryland, did make merry on that day. The biggest change from Halloween’s earliest roots is that it becomes more secular than religious.
By the 1920s and 30s, you’ve got the Halloween parades and parties becoming a major part of the festivities. Unfortunately, communities begin to see some “tricks” as petty vandalism associated with Halloween. This might involve “tricks” with kids throwing eggs or wrapping houses in toilet paper if the children felt slighted on the treats.
But the rest of this story, you know. Accentuated by Hollywood’s version of ghosts, ghouls and vampires, Halloween is the day (or night) we all have come to love.
In this therapy-obsessed world, Halloween plays off our phobias. Killer clowns and antique dolls creep you out? Bats and spiders make your skin crawl? Does the sight of blood make you faint? Don’t go into that room and don’t go out on Halloween. But if you do — look over your shoulder!
On Halloween, be a kid again or take on a new persona. Watch out for ghosts and goblins and things that go, “bump” in the night. Eat as much candy as your tummy can hold. Enjoy feeling totally free for just. one. night. Happy Halloween, everybody!