Happy Halloween, y’all.
All Hallow’s Eve holds first place in the ranking of holidays for me. While I remain a hardened skeptic I must admit I have a deep love for all things supernatural and otherworldly.
Predating Christianity and the Gregorian calendar, the festival of Samhain marked the season of allhallowtide, celebrated by the Celtic people of ancient Ireland. It marked the treacherous oncoming of the winter season, which meant darkened days and the scarcity of food. Samhain was also the night where the veil between the earthly world and the spiritworld thinned and the deceased could return for a quick visit and maybe a pint. Enormous bonfires were lit, and you could only light the hearth in your crib from those bonfires, and maybe there were some animal sacrifices or a wedding, and you wore a mask to fool the ghosts. Now we wear disguises to fool the living.
I love the idea that an ancestor of mine might’ve been cloaked in robes, getting black out wasted, properly hammer smashed face in front of a massive bonfire, and potentially conversing with specters. Druids gonna druid.
Pope Boniface IV tried to manhandle the holiday in the 7th century by making the day after Samhain, the holy observation of All Saints’ Day. He hoped to steal some thunder and uproot the tradition as the church had done with most Pagan holidays and practices, but instead the holidays melded and Halloween came out victorious.
Halloween boomed in America in the mid 19th century as the Irish immigrated in droves fleeing religious and political deprivation and starvation. As newly appointed citizens of America, Irish people could worship freely, vote in elections, speak their language if they so chose, and own property, all things they were forbidden to do in their native country. America was a chance of a better life, a fresh start, and they arrived with their culture and customs in tow.
Halloween would be about costumes, black cats and witches, ghouls and goblins. Trick-or-Treating is believed to be born out of an English practice that allowed the poor the opportunity to go door to door and beg for food. Obviously modern day Trick-or-Treating is less cruel and more fun loving. As a child I couldn’t wait to empty my oversized plastic Jack-o’-lantern that I used to store a small army of G.I. Joe figures and fill it with candy in order to satiate my chocolate addiction. Nowadays I look forward to pilfering through my children’s bounty taxing most Hershey bars, M&M’s and Reese’s peanut butter cups while they sleep.
Halloween also happens to take place in the best month during my most preferred season. You got post season baseball, comfortable weather and pumpkin picking. While I love the appearance and the aesthetic of the gourd, you can keep anything pumpkin flavored, I don’t want it. No pumpkin flavored coffee or beer, no pumpkin pie, nothing. I’ll take apple cider donuts instead. Thank you. This year we carved a forty pound pumpkin and decorated four smaller ones. Originally it was a turnip that was carved by the Celts and illuminated by a candle, pumpkins were not native to Ireland but were abundant in the states. Jack-o’-lantern is derived from an Irish folktale about a devious man named Stingy Jack.
Another aspect of Halloween I revel in is horror movies. This is something that is really not seasonal for me as I watch horror all throughout the year. I have my favorites as I’m sure you have yours, and it’s unavoidable, but the name Michael Myers will be mentioned, and remains synonymous with the holiday. I had a beloved VHS cassette as a kid with Halloween and Halloween II, back to back, taped unlawfully from cable. I am not here to convince you of anything, and some are worse than others, and some are unwatchable, but for real, you only need 1-4 in the franchise.
Though I was watching these films when I was seven I’m certainly not letting my twins do the same. Fortunately for them, there are some great specials that are more age appropriate, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the nostalgia of it. We had these on repeat all month: It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, Garfield’s Halloween Adventure, Halloween Is Grinch Night, The Haunted Pumpkin Of Halloween, Muppets Haunted Mansion and The Scariest Story Ever: A Mickey Mouse Halloween Spooktacular. My kids like anything Goosebumps, sing along to A Nightmare Before Christmas, and love Beetlejuice (without the “Nice Fucking Model” bit, the movie aired on Freeform censored). We read a plethora of Halloween themed books and listened to spooky stories. We are carrying the torch ignited from the pagan bonfires of yore.
Devil’s night has matured some since my rebellious adolescent/young adult years of terrorizing the neighborhoods in Queens. The day is no longer about shaving cream, throwing eggs, breaking windows or fist fighting in the streets, but it was a blast while it lasted. In retrospect, it was pretty insane back then but to us it seemed completely normal to behave wild and lawless, with little regard for anything. I got some stories, and I know you got some, too.
I’m old, jaded and bitter and very few things in life retain any mystique. Halloween somehow still preserves some magic. Even if it didn’t and I was over it, it’s not about me, it’s about my kids. I love that they love Halloween. I respect that it’s embedded in our genetic code. The happiness on their faces as they adorn their costumes and eagerly scurry from house to house trying to solicit as much candy as possible is enough. Aoife is going to be Elsa this year, the second time in history, Abigail will be a zombie cheerleader and Gunnar is amped to be Optimus Prime. They are counting the minutes and I’m excited for them.
Halloween isn’t officially underway until sundown, if the veil really thins and the spirits of the dead do roam the earth, then I will have a candle lit to guide their way. There are some people I miss dearly and would love to catch up.
Do check all your kid’s Halloween candy because this earthly world is vile and no one can be trusted and remember that you’re not to extinguish the fire in your hearth or the candle in the jack-o’-lantern, it keeps evil spirits at bay, let the flame burn itself out.