October 31 lurks just around the dark and eerie corner, that happy wholesome holiday when we party hard for the dead. When we can legally send our children door-to-door to shake down the neighbors for M&Ms, Gummy Fangs, and a twelve-ounce bag of French Roast Espresso.
The word Halloween, as you well recall, is derived from two words: “hallow,” meaning “to bless”—and nothing says blessing like a gooey green spook—and “een,” the noise your mouth makes when you’re prying the caramel out of your molars. And the beauty of this holiday is that you’re never too old to enjoy it, which occurred to me last November 1 at breakfast, while chowing down on a Snickers omelet.
Halloween also inspires the competitive spirit, your big chance to get your front yard pictured on the cover of Occult Quarterly. It’s also about creating world-class action-figure costumes like Spiderman, Pirate Jack Sparrow, or a TSA agent seizing deadly vials of mascara. It’s also about scaring up a chilling disguise like a bloodthirsty telemarketer. Or a bag of fresh spinach.
The precursor to the Potluck Dessert, Halloween dates back thousands of years, long before the invention of Candy Corn or Oozing Nougat Eyeballs. Today’s rituals have filtered down through the ages, from diverse cultural festivals compliments of the Celts, the Christians, and the Greek Olympic sport of toilet-papering trees.
In Celtic history, November 1st marked the onset of winter, a season they associated with darkness, death, and scraping their windshields. On October 31st, they celebrated “Samhain,” the night when the ghosts of the dead wreaked havoc on the living by scooping First Prize for Best Costumes. To keep the spirits away, the Celts carried bright jack-o-lanterns carved out of big turnips, since no self-respecting ghost would be caught dead near a turnip.
Later, the Romans popularized the Day of Pomona—the goddess of fruit and trees, symbolized by the apple. This could explain why we bob for apples, except that nothing can explain why anyone would bob for apples. And the Christians celebrated All Souls’ Day on November 2nd to honor the dead, some of whom may have overdosed on Tootsie Roll Midgets.
And now—SURPRISE—here’s a multiple-choice POP QUIZ. Here’s your question: Why is Halloween an important holiday? Choose the right answer:
THE ANSWER will be buried in the graveyard on October 31 under the dead oak tree. Go there at midnight and dig it up.
Copyright 2006 Patricia Draznin