HALLOWEEN HAS GAINED STATUS as one of the top holidays of the year. Commercialism wins once again, and even in this bad economy, it is expected that American shoppers will spend over $10 billion on human and pet costumes, candy and decorations. If you doubt this, make a trip to Walmart, a grocery or the dollar store. Talented mothers can make costumes for considerably less than the examples on display.
Sixty-plus years ago we used old white bed sheets with cut-out eye holes and flapped about as ghosts. We had plenty of fun and candy even at this primitive level. We dragged chains and made weird noises, and were restricted to visiting only friends and relatives approved by our parents. This is still a good plan. Why collect pounds of questionable candy that watchful parents often dump?
For the most part, we rarely consider the real history behind it. It is believed that the real Halloween started in Ireland and Scotland as Samhain, which is Gaelic for “summer’s end.” The harvest ended the Gaelic year and it was believed the gap between the living and the dead lessened on this day, and both good and evil spirits returned to earth. People tried to scare off the bad spirits by wearing masks and displaying jack-o-lanterns.
There were serious beliefs in witches and demons, not the fun day we have today, and many accused of witchcraft were put to death. In later centuries the French wore costumes to hide from the Grim Reaper who was trying to take them to their graves. Incorporated into Christianity it became All Hallows Eve (Halloween) the day before Nov. 1, which is All Saints Day.
There were also many beliefs involving birds and animals, particularly if they were black. Bats are associated with vampires and look pretty spooky as they flutter around at night feeding on insects. In this climate, most have hidden in caves for the winter or migrated south. Personally, there is a fondness for bats for eating all those tons of insects during warm weather.
Then there are black cats, the suspected familiars of the witches. Thousands of cats were killed across Europe, which may have contributed to the increase of rats carrying the plague. As a cat lover, this is a horror. Some sick individuals still cause mischief, so it is good to keep your pets safely inside the house. Then there are the blackbirds. What is creepier than Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry, especially the “The Raven,” Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary… quoth the Raven, ‘Nevermore.’” Think of Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, “The Birds.” One early Halloween morning while dressing for work, the bare tree by the garage gradually filled with large black crows. Several flew in at a time until the whole tree was loaded with them. Passing by them to get to the car they just sat there, stared, and mumbled to themselves… It was a great relief to get to our labs at work.
You never know what this holiday can bring. May all our children have a traditional American Halloween of fun and safe parties. And for the adults, watch out for those Scottish witches of “Macbeth,” By the pricking of my thumbs, Something wicked this way comes… ”
History of Halloween at http://www.newsnetnebraska.org/component/content/article/28-news-cojmc/647-a-history-of-halloween