Duff ’n Stuff, Oct. 30, 2012
Halloween is tomorrow and let us remember to honor the dead as the Celtic people did, even while sneaking a Mounds bar or two from the stash.
Also known as “All Hallows Eve,” this is a holiday of complexity. Wearing costumes and roaming from door to door demanding treats can be traced to the pre-Christian Celtic period known as “Samhain” (pronounced Sah-ween); the night that the souls of the dead were out and about on Oct. 31, the day before what the Christians would later name the “Feast of All Saints.” Trick-or-treating comes from what the Celts called “mumming,” the offering of treats to appease the dead souls, and the fairies and demons who might accompany them.
Halloween today brings with it the baggage of having distorted a perfectly fine Celtic tradition of remembering the dead, wringing from it some very fine pagan rituals and revealing the modern version that ties it to the commercialism of giant candy corporations. (Some people in my former Seattle neighborhood confessed to buying hundreds of dollars’ worth of candy just to keep up with the trick-or-treaters who were driven around to houses by their S.U.V. hovering parents who waited at the end of each block. Ugh.)
However, I will avert my anarchic tendencies to rail against the commercialization of all American holidays and admit now that there is nothing sweeter than opening one’s front door to see a five-year-old witch on your doorstep who looks up at you with doe eyes and says, “Twick aw tweat!” That same witch is as gracious as she is adorable as she reaches out with her impossibly tiny fingers and pointedly takes one small piece of candy from the horrendously large mound of it that you gently present to her while wearing your ridiculous wig.
Getting ready to go trick-or-treating is perhaps the perfect illustration of what is meant by the word “anticipation” in the minds of American school children. Candy is “awesome” (as they might say) and the idea of getting gobs of the stuff thrown into one’s bag for just dressing up in a costume and walking around ringing doorbells is the probably one of any number events in the course of their lives when children realize how much smarter they are than adults.
Halloween stirs some of the fondest memories of childhood for me. I remember the rush home from school with my siblings in order to make the final preparations on our costumes. Ours were of the homemade and imaginative variety, and usually consisted of whatever we could throw together from materials found around the house, in the hollows of the cedar closet or near our mother’s sewing table. I remember that I dressed more than once as a “hobo” or a pirate. Apparently big shirts, old raincoats, bandanas, eye patches and black eyeliner pencil for mustaches were readily available at our house.
Every Halloween, my mother either made pizza or ordered it for delivery, which meant we would also have the added treat of soda pop for dinner (something that was rarely served to us except at holiday parties, or when we ordered out for pizza) in addition to being allowed to roam around in the dark collecting candy on a school night. The bonuses of Halloween never ceased!
Setting out onto the dark streets with my brothers, sisters and friends was almost more excitement than I could take. It was a trick in itself to carry my newly purchased orange and black trick-or-treat bag with special handles and my orange Unicef box for gathering pennies as I maneuvered in the dark, partially blinded by whatever mask or eye-patch I was wearing and making sure not to trip or slip on any unseen in-ground sprinkler heads, wet grass or unexpected stairs. Trick-or-treating was treacherous, but totally worth the final haul.
Once home again, the living room was strewn with our confectionery piles. This is where the serious trades began. “I’ll give you two Tootsie Rolls for that big Snickers bar.” “What? Are you crazy? No way. You’ll have to kick in some Smarties, a little Butterfinger and maybe one of those Bit ‘o Honey. This is the biggest Snickers they sell.”
This went on for an hour or so until my mother told us to find a spot in the cupboard for our candy, which we dilligently marked with signs that said things like “John’s. Don’t even think about touching this.” Then she’d send us off to bed with admonitions to brush our teeth well. This was my father’s cue to go check out our bounty and pretend the next day that he had sampled none. He loved candy more than any of us and perhaps his sweet tooth came from his being Irish and connected to that Celtic realm.
However you are connected to the ancient past, may all your ancestors be honored with rituals this Halloween and may all your candy be the kind you like best.
From the heart,
Island Halloween Events:
Pumpkin Pete’s Halloween Bash!
Dance from 8 to midnight on All Hallow’s Eve, Wednesday, Oct. 31, at the Deer Lagoon Grange in Bayview with the rock band Pete, who is Dave Draper, Tommy Hoeflich, Donald Singleton and Fredde Butterworth. Costumes required! Tickets cost $10 and are limited to 100 tickets. R.S.V.P. by email to firstname.lastname@example.org with “PUMPKIN PETE” in the subject line.
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