Halloween Exclamation Point

by Bernie Keating

• Punching up Wikipedia since 1885 •


 WHENEVER WE SEE "witches," "ghosts," "skeletons," "goblins," and "monsters," it can only mean one thing. There's nothing better than a good game of Scrabble.

Halloween? Um, sure. I guess it could mean that . . . . So let's talk about that instead.

We'll begin with the etymology ("the study of insects") of the name "Hallowe'en." It'll give us something to do. Many believe Hallowe'en originated as an anagram of the word "halloween" albeit not a very creative one. Halloween is also known as "All Hallows Eve," or "Hallowtide," or "Hallowkitty," or even "Hallownurse!" They're like synonyms or something. Write down your favorite, fold it, and put it in the hat over there.

While Halloween's origins are considered Christian (1st Baptist on 3rd and Elm), the holiday is commonly thought to have pagan roots which no amount of bleach or henna can correct.

It is typically linked to the Celtic festival of "Samhain" (pronunciation: well . . . it's Gaelic -- so it's anybody's guess). Samhain loosely translates from the Old Irish to "summer's end" or even more loosely "summer's heinie."

Get this. During Samhain, cattle were brought in from the summer pastures, festive bonfires were set, merry songs were sung, and the cattle were slaughtered. To be fair, the cattle weren't singled out. That would be barbaric. These merry revelers also included human sacrifice in their shenanigans. Scholars believe these mirthful ritual human sacrifices were the precursor to what we now refer to as "pranks." Essentially, we've replaced heinous bloody human sacrifice with joy buzzers. So as you can see, we've really grown. But not much.

Samhain was seen as a time when the "door" to the Otherworld opened; hence the saying "When one door closes, the Otherworld opens." Or thereabouts. Feasts were held, to which the souls of the dead and other beings such as fairies, were beckoned and a place was set at the table for them. Predictably, the souls of the dead kept whining about how they weren't at all hungry. But, equally predictably, the fairies had a blast and really helped lighten the mood.

Lewis Spence called it "feast of the dead" or the "festival of the fairies," resulting in Mr. Spence receiving a rather stern letter signed by both the Human Rights Campaign and the Neptune Society.

Which begs the age old question: "Halloween costumes. What's that deal?" Wearing costumes may have originated as a means of protecting oneself from the undead and/or fairies. Face it. Who wouldn't run screaming at the sight of a six year old dressed as a hobo or wearing a cheap plastic Scooby Doo mask? Well, maybe the undead wouldn't, but the fairies certainly would. I've seen it.

Although anecdotal, many believe the earliest Halloween costumes were fashioned after Celtic monsters such as the Banshee, the Dullahan and the Dearg Due. Which of course were the precursor to such costumes as the sexy Banshee, the sexy Dullahan and the sexy Dearg Due, still popular today.

Then the trick or treating started. What a mess. This is a custom whereby children who, for 364 days a year are berated by parents and teachers to never talk to strangers and scream if a stranger even looks at them, are suddenly dressed up real cute like and instructed to go door-to-door and beg complete strangers for candy which may or may not contain razor blades. Officially making it "Mixed Message Day." One can only assume "Get In An Unmarked Van Day" is just over the horizon.

 

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