Boys and girls of every age,
Wouldn’t you like to see something strange?
Come with us and you will see,
This our town of Halloween. - Danny Elfman, “This is Halloween”
Technically, the Celtic festival of Samhain (SOW-en) is tomorrow, November 1st, but its most important festivities began on the previous evening and, like so many pagan holidays, it was later transformed into a Christian holiday. Many cultures traditionally honored their dead in autumn, but once the Church established All Hallows Day those other festivals (such as the Aztec festival for the goddess Mictecacihuatl, Queen of the Dead, which was originally held in August) shifted to the time of the official celebration. Indeed, Pope Gregory III (731-741) even suppressed the earlier “Holy Martyr’s Day”, which until then was celebrated on May 13th – the old Roman festival of Lemuria, at which the restless or malevolent dead (lemures) were propitiated and exorcised from houses. And though the Catholic Church later split All Hallows Day into two observances – All Saints Day on November 1st (dedicated to those in Heaven) and All Souls Day on November 2nd (dedicated to those in Purgatory) – October 31st retained its name of All Hallows Even…or as it is usually abbreviated, Hallowe’en.
This holiday has always held a special significance for me, and not merely because I was born 45 years ago tonight, nor because I lost my virginity 15 years later on this same night. As I said in my column of one year ago today:
…I was always a strange and moody child…[and] Halloween…was a special, magical night not only because of the treats and the opportunity to get up in costume, but also because it was the one time I was allowed to run wild like the little witch I was, my tangled hair streaming behind in the chilly October breeze as I crept from house to house in the dark, always alone, making sure no other children were nearby to interrupt my solo appearance at each door.
Though we don’t see Trick-or-Treaters out here in the country, I always carve a Jack o’ Lantern and bake a Halloween cake, and we celebrate by watching a horror movie and reading a scary story. But while you’re out and about today and you see all the commercialized, tamed and neutered symbols of this once-dark holiday, spare a thought for your ancestors and all Those Who Have Gone Before, and remember that since you and everyone else around you will follow them in the merest of moments (on the cosmic scale), death is nothing to be afraid of; what’s important is not when we die, but how we live.
Happy Halloween, Dear Readers, and Blessed Be!