To witches, goblins and a ghost
I'll serve them chicken soup on toast
Whoopy once, whoopy twice
Whoopy chicken soup with rice
from Chicken Soup With Rice: a Book of Months
written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak
Harper & Row, 1962
Halloween has never been my favorite holiday, even when I was a kid. I wanted to be a ballerina when I grew up, but even at the tender age of six, I knew that was pretty impossible. First, I was the wrong shape, too round. Next, I didn’t have enough poise or grace. It took a long time and a lot of effort to even figure out how to balance on a two-wheeler. And, the truth is, yes, you can forget how. Finally, I don’t have a high aptitude for knowing exactly where I am in space. So, it’s just as well, now.
But if I pretended, especially with a little bit of dress up, I COULD be anything, even a round, clumsy ballerina.
So, back to Halloween. We’re always telling our kids they can do and be anything they can dream of. So maybe the point of Halloween is to help kids identify their dreams and walk around as someone else for a time, just to try it out.
Astronaut? (a jump into the future)
Archeologist? (a blast back to explore the past)
Mad Scientist? (even the "Mad" ones discover stuff!)
Ghoul? Witch? Vampire? (feel powerful for a little while, especially when you’re very small)
So, even the scary stuff can be useful. I understand, but I still don’t have to like it.
A while ago on our way to Florida, my husband and I passed a billboard that informed us Halloween is a 6,000 year old holiday. I made a note to look it up later, when we stopped for the night.
Everything I found confirmed Halloween had probably evolved from the Celtic harvest holiday, Samhain. The Gaelic word is usually translated as Summer’s End. The holiday, celebrated about 2,000 years ago, was a period of mystical intensity, described in myths as a time when the boundary between the physical and the spiritual world became fluid. Spirits, faeries, and elves walked among mortals. People hollowed out gourds, and carried them, lit, throughout the streets and left gifts along the way to appease the spirits.
The word “hallow” (not hollow) means to set apart as holy, or to consecrate. For the English, trying to reconcile their beliefs with those of the Celts, November 1, became “Feasts of All Saints and Souls,” and the day before became “All Hallow’s Eve.” Similarities between the old Celtic celebration and the “modern” included honoring the dead with food and using candle-lit gourds, carved to allow the light to escape.
The foods of choice for these early Brits were “soul cakes,” small, pastries baked with expensive ingredients and precious spices. Soul cakes were distributed to beggars who promised to pray for the departed souls of loved ones in exchange for food.
During the height of their civilization, the Aztecs (c. 1345-1521) celebrated Día de los Muertos, Day of the Dead. Delicious food was part of what amounted to a wonderful family reunion with relatives who had passed into the spirit world, a joyful time for people to celebrate the memories of their ancestors. Candle-lit displays honored the ancestors and allowed them to find their families.
When the Spanish arrived in Mexico in the 1500s, they combined elements of Day of the Dead with their own All Souls Day. Dia de los Muertos is still celebrated in many Hispanic communities in Central America and the United States with elaborate displays and delicious food.
It’s not such a great leap from then to now. We still celebrate with food. We still light pumpkins. We still give sweets to the folks (usually small children) who beg at our door.
In 1950s America, when the Great Depression was becoming a foggy memory and WWII was finally over, a new prosperity spilled into growing suburbs. People were looking for ways to meet their neighbors and entertain their children. Popcorn balls, caramel apples, and seasonal nuts were distributed to kids who joined their neighbors in an evening of fun.
When I was growing up, we made our own costumes. Store-bought characters like Superheroes and Disney princesses were not even a twinkle in the eyes of entrepreneurs and merchandizers. Ghosts and skeletons were about as scary as anyone dared to be. Blood and gore were not part of the repertoire, yet. Cats, babies, and storybook characters were popular.
Candy companies already had Easter and Christmas. Valentine’s Day was also a big money-making holiday. But how about something in the Fall? Of course, Halloween. Candy is big business. “Brach’s churns out roughly 30 million pounds of candy corn for the fall season each year, enough to circle Planet Earth five times.” (Youngstown Vindicator, 10/29/23, C1)
Halloween has become the nation’s second-largest commercial holiday. A report in usa.com projects Americans will spend an average of over $108. per person this year, a lot less than the $826. per person spent on Christmas gifts, food, and decorations in 2022, but still.
Tonight, even some of the littlest kids will dress up in really scary and sometimes bloody-looking costumes. Yuck! And I still don’t get the whole idea of asking for candy from strangers. Because who even knows their neighbors anymore?
But I’m not Scrooge. I give the kids who come to my house quarters instead of candy. No one has complained yet, and I like the leftovers!
In one of my book clubs we decided to each choose a banned book to read. I chose John Green’s Looking for Alaska (Penguin Young Readers Group, 2005). It’s Green’s (The Fault in Our Stars) debut novel and an ALA Michael L. Printz Award winner. From the publisher, “Looking for Alaska brilliantly chronicles the indelible impact one life can have on another.” It’s a coming-of-age story with all the teenage angst one would expect. The friendship story is laced with lust, alcohol, and possible suicide, all reasons for censors to be up in arms, but the characters are well imagined and their situations, problems, and antics feel real. If you like YA, put this one on your list.
-—Be curious! (and celebrate)