Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Something wicked this way comes: telling the story of Halloween

Image from my own Instagram
"The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where one ends, and where the other begins?" - Edgar Allan Poe

Come in my pretties, can I take your coat? Please, make yourselves at home. There now, there is no need to be afraid of All Hallows' Eve. Take off your mask, there is no need for that here. Are you sitting comfortably?

It began almost 2,000 years ago, when the Celts across Europe celebrated their New Year's Eve. Known as Samhain Eve, it was celebrated at the end of October before the colder months chilled the bones of our ancestors. They didn't own overpriced Barbour jackets or hot water bottles to keep them warm, you see. Samhain, means November in Irish and celebrated the end of a bountiful harvest season and the disappearance of the warm summer months. As the line waned between autumn and winter, it was legend that so did the veil between the living and the dead. On this particular night, spirits were thought to walk with the living, many on their way to the afterlife.

Where there is no imagination there is no horror.  ~Arthur Conan Doyle, Sr.

During the celebrations of Samhain Eve, bonfires were lit and the Celts would disguise themselves in costume. There was no "Naughty Nurse" or "I'm a mouse, duh!"- think more tribal costumes adorned with grisly animal sacrifice. This was the only time of year where the Celts subverted the acceptable social norms, by occasionally dressing as the opposite gender. They would wear costumes and masks to confuse the spirits who wandered on the Earth, and it is speculated that it was also to avoid being possessed. The Celts protected themselves from the spirits as they feared them to be malevolent tricksters. This was the birth of trick or treat.

What we now know as Halloween was aided by the leadership of the Christian church. In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV declared November 1 as All Saints Day, also known as All Hallows' Day. In Ireland, Samhain became All Hallows' Eve. A large migration of Europeans to the United States is what took Halloween to America, as well as many of the Irish who fled to the United States in the nineteenth century, due to the potato famine of 1845. They took along their customs and traditions during their immigration, and spread the celebration of Halloween.

All has not been bobbing apples and performing carvery skills on a pumpkin and it's sloppy insides, Halloween has far more sinister tales to tell. A significant amount of crime has been committed on All Hallows Eve. Although crime is not attached to this day alone, there are some unnerving stories. In 1993, there were the famous Pasadena murders in California, where three teenagers were shot and killed, and three were injured. In 2009, two young girls were abducted by 'East Coast Rapist' Aaron Thomas in Virginia on their way home from trick or treating. In 2011, a young woman named Taylor Van Diest was found beaten near rail way tracks after being attacked on her way home from a Halloween party in Armstrong, Canada. She died before being able to identify her attacker to the police. She was 18 years old.

While there are negative associations with Halloween, it is still a day intended for spirited celebration. You could dress yourself in fake blood stained rags or force a Batman cape on your spaniel for the day, and you could also tell urban legends around a pretend campfire built from vodka bottles and pizza boxes. Or you might remember those you have lost this year, you might speak quietly to them in the dark for comfort. They might hear you on this day, and you might guide them home.

Side note: Just don't turn off the light, just in case. You never know what's lurking. Happy Halloween, I wish you monsters.

Huffington Post