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Halloween, Then and Now

Halloween, Then and Now

Halloween is a child’s holiday. Little folks from mere infants to preteens seem to love dressing up one night a year and going through their neighborhoods asking for treats. Some go to church parties instead of house-to-house, and some have parties at school. Some celebrate at home, helping their parents give out candy to those who ring the doorbell or knock on the door. Many go to neighborhood parties to dunk for apples, eat peeled grapes (representing eyeballs), candied apples, and other ghoulish snacks provided by their hosts. It was always fun when I was a child.

I remember getting dressed as a gypsy in a costume Mama made, loaded with strings of colored macaroni stars, with cheeks and lips emphasized by applications of Mama’s cosmetics. I didn’t have to go far as the neighborhood was small, and everybody knew everybody else. If I went up the street, a neighbor went with me, and we picked up kids from other houses as we went. We didn’t get a lot of candy, but the apples we got were fresh and crisp. It was a carefree time, quite unlike now. Now people lace apples with razor blades, spike candy with drugs, and shoot guns randomly. We also have to contend with haunting images of a ghostly pandemic. The term “Halloween mask” has a whole different meaning this year.

I honestly wish today’s kids could have the kind of Halloween I enjoyed as I was growing up. There was no fear of kidnapping, drug deals, or crime on the streets of my small town. It was an excellent time to be a kid.

The word Halloween is a contraction of the Scottish term for the eve of All Saints’ Day, namely All Hallows Evening, which became All Hallows Even and then Hallowe’en. It is said that the commemoration of all the saints was the Christian way to cover the pagan celebration of Samhain, which was very popular as a marking the end of the harvest and the turning of the season. Christians replaced other pagan festivals, such as Christmas and solstices like spring and fall, with their own commemorations and feasts. Samhain became for them the two days of celebration of holy people, sainted or not. 

Once the evening has gone quiet, I go outside to experience something that doesn’t often happen in my experience. As the night goes on, it feels like I find thin spaces when earth and heaven are very close together, and I can almost feel long-dead loved ones around me. I can also do the same on the evening between All Saints’ and All Souls’ when the various cultures celebrate as El Dia de los Muertos. Families visit cemeteries where their dead relatives lie and spend lengthy periods between All Saints afternoon and All Souls morning visiting their loved ones and celebrating by decorating the tombs, offering food, flowers, and drinks to the deceased, and singing favorite songs. They feel the thin space, and treat the dead as if they were alive and partying with them. 

The time around Halloween is special to me. Fall is now coming to this part of Arizona. I see gorgeous pictures of places with trees with colored leaves on various websites and magazines, and I miss being where there are actually four seasons. There’s a tang to the air early in the morning, even if the temperature will be relatively warm during the day. Carved pumpkins (or plastic representations, or air-filled balloons shaped and colored like jack o’ lanterns) appear on porches, steps, and lawns. Baskets of colorful chrysanthemums and wreaths of colored leaves, nuts, and seasonal fruit decorate the houses, reminding us that the year is growing old and that winter will be not far behind. 

Still, we have a little time to enjoy it all. For me, it’s an easy time to be thankful for many things, including memories of happy celebrations during this season, people I have loved and who have loved me, and that I am alive to enjoy these times. An old friend once called this season “Hallowthankmas,” because the three holidays are somewhat run together like water spilled over damp watercolor paintings. 

I’m thankful for Halloween because it reminds me that all those who have gone before me. I try not to judge whether they are saints or sinful souls, but with the hope that hell is empty and the mansions of heaven are full and expanding rapidly. I read my list of the dead I wish to remember, especially this year, add a few names, and at the end of All Souls’, put it back in my prayer book for next year – or next time I want to remember them all. 

I’ll never be a gypsy on Halloween again, as I was for so many years as a child, but I’m thankful for the memories. I hope everyone has happy memories to remember this Halloween. 

God bless.

Image: Gypsy Playhouse, from the author’s collection. 1952. 

Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter.  She lives in Avondale. Arizona, just outside of Phoenix. She lives with three cats who consider her to be staff.

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