Hello, Whaley friends!!
I would like to apologize for the blog’s short hiatus. I was busy getting married and what not. Now, however, I’m back and it’s Halloween!!!
So on my hour-long commute to work this morning I was going over in my mind what I should post about. I heard “Thriller” on the radio and thought about Vincent Price and the classic horror movies. Then I heard mention of Stephen King on NPR and thought I could talk about scary stories. I could also go classic and talk about Halloween traditions and history. Hmm…so many fabulous choices…maybe I should just smoosh them all together! Here it goes, folks…the ultimate Halloween post!
The Halloween we know and enjoy today springs from two different traditions. The first being Celtic harvest festivals, most notably Samhain, which was part of Irish culture before Christianity ever arrived. The second tradition is one that developed after the spread of Christianity. All Hallows’ Eve (October 31) and All Saints’ Day (November 1) was a time to remember the hallowed, martyred, and faithful who were no longer part of the earth (basically, celebrating the good guys who had kicked the bucket). Today’s Halloween obviously bears very little resemblance to these two traditions, but there are a few customs that have transferred to the twenty-first century.
Trick-or-Treating resembles the Middle Age practice of souling, which involved children and the poor going from house to house gathering soul cakes from residents on All Saints’ Day. Each cake eaten symbolized a soul being freed from Purgatory.
Jack-o-Lanterns weren’t always made from pumpkins! In the British Isles turnips and beets were often used. In the Catholic faith, children often carried carved turnips while souling. The term Jack-o-Lantern itself simply refers to a man carrying a lantern and came to be associated with the carved produce during the nineteenth century as Halloween grew more secular and popular.
Enter the Monsters
Even in the early Celtic celebrations of Samhain, spirits, sprites, and fairies (do not picture Tinker Bell here) were thought to be most active during the “darker half” of the year, which the harvest festivals ushered in. People believed they needed to protect themselves and their livestock from the frightful beings. Some traditions had people dressing in scary costumes to ward off or trick the spirits.
Halloween was not popular in America until the large influx of Irish and Scottish immigrants in the nineteenth century. As previous blog posts have mentioned, the nineteenth century was a time when people became quite interested in the supernatural, be it in music, literature, or parlor games. So, when these festivals and customs, steeped in the supernatural came to the United States and mixed with the popular culture there, a new kind of holiday was born.
Slowly pop culture mediums expanded to include movies, radio, and television. All of these media outlets brought more and more ghoulish monsters and images to the masses during October. Today haunted attractions tempt adrenaline junkies to their venues in attempt to make a profit out of the thrilling prospect of being frightened. People have moved from keeping spirits and faeries out of their homes at this particularly supernatural time, to welcoming them in through special television programming.
So what are a few of your favorite Halloween traditions? Do you dress up? Do you watch scary movies with all of the lights off or do you avoid the day, fearing the evil beings that come out to play on All Hallows’ Eve and All Saint’s Day?
Personally, I like a good scare. I binge on scary movies, both modern and a few of the classics. Who doesn’t love a good Boris Karloff flick? I’ve been to a fair share of haunted attractions and I like to pick out at least one good supernatural tale for the season. And, although I’m sad that it will all be over in a little more than 24 hours, I keep telling myself that, historically, ghost stories were a staple of the entire winter…