It’s Halloween as I write this.
I have long wondered what the appeal is for Halloween. I think I turned sour on it when my kids got to be Trick or Treat age and costumes and candy became the focus.
I was the world’s least creative mom when it came to figuring out costumes. When he was three and wouldn’t put on the ghost-like sheet I’d spent a good ten minutes making, my son Dave toured the neighborhood as a “three-year old suburban white boy.” That was fun.
What was never fun was watching David carom off the walls for the next two days as the sugar buzz did its bewitching. This was just before I finally read Adele Davis’ You Are What You Eat, with its wonderfully succinct summary of the evils of sugar and its history.
But back then it was the costumes that got me. Keep in mind, this has never been where my creative juices flow. Even back in summer camp as a kid, I stayed as far away from the crafts cabin as I could.
I’d be hiking in the woods, learning to swim, building a campfire, making sassafras tea (after gathering the bark, of course, or was it the roots?), and anything else that kept me far away from beaded belts and leather lanyards.
So, as you might imagine, it didn’t take me long to go from today’s Halloween, that kid-centered $6 billion industry (at least here in the U.S.) — $2.5 billion for the costumes and another $3.5 billion for the candy — to how we view death, and more specifically, “the dead” in our culture.
This is a blog on Cultural Differences after all.
On how culture impacts our lives every day, and often in ways we are unaware of. [click to Tweet]
Off I went to look at how other cultures view death and dying. And how our particular rituals around it came to be. I had so much fun, I got three posts out of it.
For the one today, we’ll go backwards, beginning with the past fifty years and going back say, oh, 2500 years?
Lump the peculiarities of Trick or Treat nights of the past half century and just say it burgeoned with suburban sprawl.
[Click to Tweet]
I mean, we have 2500 years to cover. We have to make some cuts.
The Irish and Scots immigrants in the mid 1800s brought with them their traditions of
- “souling” (going door to door to pay homage to dead souls in exchange for food) and
- “guising” (dressing up in disguise to fool the meandering ghosts)
Those traditions are tied to the 8th Century’s Pope Gregory III, who set Nov. 1 as the day to honor all saints and martyrs, expanding on the May 3rd date, All Martyrs Day, set in 609 A.D. by Pope Boniface IV. Out of that, All Souls’ Day emerged.
Back a bit further to two Roman-era traditions:
- Feralia, which was a day in late October when the Romans commemorated the dead.
- Pomona, a Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The apple is her symbol.
Yup. We have the bobbing for apples tradition, thanks to Pomona.
We’re not done yet.
You knew we’d wind up with Samhain, didn’t you? But did you know how to pronounce it? It’s SOW in. Here’s a quick little video to help.
2500 years ago, the Celts believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth on November 1, their New Year. Samhain was their holiday to pay homage to the death of summer.
This was the time, they believed, when the spirits of the dead mingled with those of the living; when the boundary that normally divides us, was temporarily suspended.
And, since these dead ghosts could cause trouble, the people donned costumes of animal heads and pelts in the expectation this would thwart the returning souls’ mischief.
From this ancient Celtic culture of the Iron Age (not to be confused with modern one of Boston, about which you can learn more here) through two Catholic Popes and into our 21st century, a strong thread connects to today’s Halloween.
OK. Maybe not all of our Halloween traditions are so deep rooted.
How about you? Which are your favorite Halloween traditions?
Next week: It’s Sadie Hawkins Day (or maybe I’ll write about the election)