Witches on broomsticks, ghosts and goblins and jack-o-lanterns are everywhere you look. Yes, Halloween is the season for things to go bump in the night and for us to be scared – in a good way.
It is one of my favorite holidays because it is a day of fun. Who doesn’t like to dress up, go to a party and eat a little candy? There are those who will have nothing to do with October 31 because they believe it is strictly the devil’s holiday.
True, Halloween originated from the old Celtic holiday of Samhain, which marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. They also believed that this transition between the seasons was a bridge to the world of the dead.
Today, though, it is more about costumes and candy than about ghosts, ghouls and witches. The proof of this is certainly in the cash register. We spend 2.5 billion dollars on costumes annually. Add in candy and that figure goes to 6 billion, making Halloween the second largest commercial holiday, only Christmas surpasses it.
Haunted houses are popping up everywhere and getting scarier, thanks to modern technology, year after year. Why do we like to be scared? Imagination can conjure up more fear than anything we see or hear, but still curiosity of things that can’t be explained is part of human nature and we know we can walk into a haunted house and also walk out. It’s just like many people love going to the movies and watching thrillers because they know the scary images on the screen aren’t real.
Sometimes, though, the difference between what is real and what is not is a fine line. I have been intrigued by witches ever since I first watched “The Wizard of Oz” for the first time. They are usually always depicted as dressed in black with green skin riding their broomsticks in front of a full moon. Actually, the skin of The Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz” appeared green because of Technicolor in the film version.
Frank Baum, who wrote the classic in 1900, had the ingenuity to depict both sides of witchcraft. Remember Glinda, the Good Witch of the East? Throughout history, witches have not always been thought of as evil or ugly, but rather as healers or wise women of the community. As Christianity spread, many of them were condemned because their power supposedly came from somewhere other than God. The Salem witch trials were, sadly, a big part of our history.
The usual way to test for being a witch was to strip them down to see if they possessed any birthmarks, which were sure signs of being a witch. Another more mediocre way was by dunking, which is exactly what it sounds like. A suspected witch was thrown into a pond or well. If he or she floated, the consensus was she was rejected by the waters of baptism and thus, she was a witch. If she sunk she was declared innocent even though that meant she probably drowned. You wonder why they went to the bother since it was a lose-lose situation.
Later, accusations of witchcraft were used to keep talented, intelligent women from threatening male supremacy of the day. That is male chauvinism at its worse!
All Halloweening antics aside, there are approximately 400,000 self-proclaimed practicing witches in the United States today. Many of them are Wiccans, which is a modern pagan religion. Instead of being followers of black magic, they practice white magic and live by the code of “if it harm none, do what ye will.”
Another sure sign of Halloween are the ghoulish faces illuminated by candles that peer out from nearly every porch during October nights. Jack-o-lanterns date back to Ireland when folks carved large turnips, rutabagas and potatoes to supposedly ward off evil spirits. In America they found that pumpkins worked much better.
Lately I have seen more and more painted jack-o-lantern faces than carved ones. OK, I’ll give you that it is a lot less messy this way, but there is something traditional about reaching your hands down inside and pulling all the stringy, slimy orange guts out. How’s that for some gory Halloween talk! Besides, how are you going to have pumpkin seeds to roast if you don’t actually carve the pumpkin?
As for the subject of ghosts at Halloween, some say the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead is at its thinnest at this time of year. This allows the spirits of those who have passed on to roam more freely among us. Whether this is true or just hyped up because of the season, we are more focused on ghosts during this time of year.
It’s all part of the fun. Some people try to read too much into all of these traditions. Why can’t we just enjoy the fun for one holiday without trying to analyze every aspect of it? Life as a whole is way too serious, so when I have a chance to be a kid again I grab it with gusto.
Halloween tingles all the senses for me and makes me laugh to boot. I will never forget a couple years ago when our oldest grandson decided to go trick-or-treating as a policeman. Since his younger brother didn’t relish the idea of being his “prisoner,” I donned the costume complete with ball and chain for the night. We literally had a ball.
So, Halloween night I’ll eat my share of candy, put on a costume, try to scare the grandkids and be a kid again myself. There’s time enough November 1st to go back to being an adult.