Halloween! It’s always been a big holiday in my family, when I was a child, and again, when I had children of my own. Hey, those kids are grown, but it’s still a big holiday. Coming through childhood with the Scottish and Irish, my home was filled with legends and fun, and my grandmother was convinced that the Irish alone were responsible for Halloween. She was just a little bit off.
Samhain, an old pagan festival, was a night during which people gathered to light massive bonfires to ward off ghosts. It was the one night a year when the dead might rise. But Christianity came to the British Isles, and while many a good Christian scratched his head over the pagan rituals, Pope Gregory III knew how to win without fighting a battle; he made November 1st All Saints Day, and therefore the night before was an eve . . . you know, all hallow’s eve. And so, in time the pagan ways died down and Christianity flourished, but the old ways never fell from favor. All Hallow’s Eve remains a spooky night—one in which we wonder if indeed the spirits of the dead might rise!
Now, to add to this, there was a fellow named Jack.
Rumor had it that Jack was a saucy fellow. (Arrogant, maybe?) He was known as Stingy Jack, because he wasn’t about to share. He found himself drinking with the Devil one night, and he didn’t want to pay up. He tricked the Devil into climbing up an apple tree, and then he put crosses all around the trunk of the tree. Not only would he avoid paying his bill, but he made the devil promise not to take his soul if he let him down. Stingy Jack lived many years—continuing to be a stingy trickster—and then he died. He went to heaven, where St. Peter took one look at his record and said that there was no way he was getting into heaven. Jack decided to go see his old friend the Devil, but the Devil said that he’d vowed not to take his soul—and he would not.
Jack was forced to roam the earth forever with no real place to go. He set a candle in a turnip and traveled the world, forever doomed to find a place where his soul might reside.
Now, because Jack might be out there running around, people started putting lights in their turnips or whatever they had available so that they could ward off Jack! Naturally, they became known as Jack-O-Lanterns. The custom traveled to America where there was an abundance of pumpkins (bigger and more convenient than turnips,) and so, carving out a pumpkin—and often giving it a nice scary face to ward off Jack and other lost or risen souls—became popular in America.
The earliest costumes for the holiday go back to the late nineteenth century in Scotland where people began to dress up as “guisers.” The first costumes were usually those of ghosts or spirits—a way to fool the real ghosts and spirits and keep them at bay. As you know, when customs get to America, we like to broaden them. This Halloween you’ll see gorgeous costumes as well as witches, warlocks, vampires, ghosts and more. You’ll see “sexy” costumes popular with teens and young adults, and you’ll see fun costumes—like the whole gamut of the Fruit of the Loom . . . fruit. You might even see a mustard bottle or two. We like dress up here.
Candy? Oh, yeah, you got it! Trick or treat? Give to the spirits, lest they find you as nasty as old Stingy Jack!
However you look at it, Halloween is now fun. Not to weigh in too heavily on food, but there are always bad eggs out there trying to make something bad out of something good. Go forth and be merry—and be careful of course!
So, it’s all good—or as good as we make it. I love Halloween. I’ll be out there. For me? It’s dress up and head to a wonderful Asian restaurant, Mr. Chu’s. Mr. Chu is Chinese, and his beautiful wife is Japanese. The clientele are Jamaican and Bahamian, American, Cuban-American, and every other kind of American you can imagine. Doesn’t matter where we’re from—the holiday is now universal—or universally American. The food is outstanding. Oh, and it’s a karaoke party. Should be fun and silly.
So what are your plans for the night?