Happy Halloween! It’s the day of spooks, goblins, and witches, of chills and thrills, and tricks and treats. Hundreds upon hundreds of people celebrate this holiday, but why? Why go around dressing up in wacky disguises? Why scare yourself with stories of ghosts and creatures of the night? Why go door to door, begging for tricks or treats?
Some of my favorite childhood memories took place on Halloween. There’s nothing quite like meandering around the neighborhood, bursting with excitement as the pillowcase you are carrying around becomes heavier and heavier with a sugary loot that is going to last you well into the New Year. The experience of Halloween does seem rather silly but, in one way or another (and without all the advent of the commercialism surrounding it), people have been celebrating Halloween since the 9th century – well over a thousand years ago – and it all began with the Celts of the British Isles and their festival, Samhain (a festival in which participants lit bonfires and dressed in costumes in order to ward off spirits).
So what if I was a Celtic child then? I would have been with my family, celebrating the end of summer and the harvest and getting ready for the short days and long, dark nights ahead. It would be October 31st, a new year would be beginning tomorrow and there would be a sense of celebration as well as fear – it was the only time of year that the worlds of living and the dead would merge. So to keep the spirits at bay, we would leave food and wine in front of our doors. We would also light sacred bonfires and leave our houses in masks, so that we would be mistaken by the ghosts for one of them. Instead of carving a pumpkin, I would carve a turnip or rutabaga, and when they were lit, I would carry them with me so as to further ward off the spirits.
Though an ancient holiday, the traditions are still alive and well. Though I am not an ancient Celt and I wouldn’t dream of carving a turnip instead of a pumpkin, I’m about to go and participate in the festivities that mark this silly (and spooky) season.