Costumes, Candy and Christians

2 Nov

It seems my blog can’t resist devolving into a special on holidays: I recently wrote a post about Labor Day and its origins. I did a piece on Columbus Day and its underlying ironies. And now, albeit a couple days late, I’m doing one on Halloween.

That’s because holidays are simply marketing, at its best. How we celebrate and what we celebrate has been formed through countless years of commercials, songs, movies and television shows.  Such things make a Texas girl who’d never seen snow before, envision a White Christmas year after year.  And fear goblins and ghouls when my Halloweens consisted of annual fall festivals at church, wear dressing as various characters from the Bible was en vogue. 


According to the Long Island Press, Halloween is the second largest commercial holiday in America, raking in “approximately $6.9 billion a year.” How did the holiday and its celebration become so popular and acceptable?

While working that fateful day of October, I saw miniature princesses, tiny superheroes, kid-size animals and monsters parading through the stores in the mall, yelling “TRICK or TREAT” and thrusting pretty pumpkin pails before wooed store managers eagerly shelling out candied goods.

That evening, on the other side of the tracks, I beheld a similar scene. Sadly, this caravan of children couldn’t boast of any identifiable princesses, monsters or heroes. Every costume was composed from things already hanging in the kids’ closets. Dresses normally reserved for church were adorned with transforming trinkets. T-shirts and jeans were disguised by accessories. Heels borrowed from a mother or sister clacked loudly under tiny feet. Smeared baby powder, it seems, gave the children ghoulish hues.

Thankfully, no one was there to laugh at their meager costuming. Or spoil their excitement for the night’s trek.

Both groups, both the haves and the have nots, held the same air of entitlement and eagerness for the night’s festivities. “This is my night,” their glowing faces stated with glee.

It’s the same look I witnessed the night before at a nightclub’s Halloween party. Here, the favored choices were career-related uniforms–altered to bear much more leg and chest than the typical dress code allows.

Halloween invites children and adults from all walks of life to play dress-up and transform into the object of their fantasies and dreams without judgment or censorship.

A night of mystery, where absolutely nothing is what it seems.

So mysterious, in fact, that few understand why they don a costume or offer candy.

I became curious. So, I found an interesting article on the holiday’s history. Here’s a rough summary:

Halloween is a derivative of Hallow’s Eve (hallow means saint in Old English). All Hallow’s Day or All Saint’s Day was designated as November 1st to replace the Pagan holiday of Samhain. All Soul’s Day (now Dia de los Muertos) was celebrated on November 2nd as a day to honor the non-saints who had died.  To celebrate, the poor would trade prayers for the dead for food as they went door to door. “It was widely believed at the time that the souls of the dead would await passage into heaven until enough people prayed for their souls.” Ironically, the whole thing was an attempt by the church to prevent converted Christians from celebrating the Pagan holiday, Samhain.

“About 2000 years ago,” the Celts believed the new year began on November 1st. The end of the year symbolized death to the Pagans and was associated with the harsh winter and its countless victims. These nights were commemorated by the Samhain festival. On the final night of the year, Celts believed the line between the living and dead was blurred—they “ believed the night before the New Year, that the wall between the living and the dead was open, allowing spirits of the dead, both good and bad, to mingle among the living.” According to tradition, on this night, faeries went around disguised as “beggars” asking for food. “Those that gave food to the faeries were rewarded. . .those that did not were punished.”

So, first Samrain, then Hallow’s Eve, now Halloween.

The holiday’s popularity in the States grew thanks to the work of Irish Catholic immigrants, who in the 1800s campaigned to get the holiday on public calendars. As often happens, when the holiday grew in popularity, its religious and supernatural attachment was forgotten and the holiday was promoted as one for family and community fun.

2000 years later, the practice of costuming and “trick or treating” continues, if only to escape from humdrum reality.

Until next time.


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