Once upon a time, long ago, I loved Halloween.
Having a birthday just seven short days after didn’t hurt. As a child, I could waltz through nearly two weeks of candy, cake and — occasionally spooky — fun. There was an inexpressible enchantment to late October accompanied by a powerful sense of anticipation.
Lengthening shadows, silhouette trees black in the sunset. Carving pumpkins, dressing in costume, eating taffy apples and homemade Rice Crispy candy. All while wondering at the magic of the dark unknown. It also didn’t hurt that, unlike Christmas, there was no requirement of good behavior. I don’t think I was a particularly bad kid, but part of the magic of Halloween was that active participation didn’t require my “being good.” And, in fact, all the scary masks suggested that “being bad” might just be a benefit.
Fast-forward 10 years or so and I was on the cusp of adulthood. I was also a committed Christian, wanting to do right. In the Christian bookstore at the mall, I bought a book about Halloween and Satanism. And it scared me to death. Suddenly, all the fun, the mystery, and the creepiness was forbidden. Worse, I found myself surrounded by a public that didn’t “get it” and kept on having fun while I instead boycotted the holiday entirely. For years.
But something didn’t feel quite right. I was afraid. Jumping at things in the dark rather than running free in the night. Something elemental has been misplaced and, deep down, I knew it.
In time, I would come to recant my earlier ideas and begin to re-embrace Halloween. Realizing how dominant my own Celtic heritage was helped. Like most Americans, I’m a bit of a mutt when it comes to tracing my European ancestry. There’s English, German, a small bit of Irish, a smaller bit of French. But also a great deal of Welsh. And something deep-seated and very Celtic showed itself in my being: independent, melancholy, poetic, driven.
And also intensely interested in the unknown.
You see, Halloween began as the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced SOW-an). This festival honored the time the earth had once died — a great cataclysm signaled by the rise of the Seven Sisters star cluster (also known as the Pleiades) at midnight of October 31.
Ever after, during that night, the veil between this world and the next thinned and all sorts of beings walked in our world. Bonfires burned. Masks were worn to confuse the dark things of the underworld. Divinations — often with apples — were performed to peer into the unknown.
Samhain would later become Christianized by the church, becoming All Hallows Eve, a night to remember all those who passed before. Of course, the shortening of “All Hallows Eve” (and be sure to say this with a good Cockney accent) would give us the word “Hallowe’en.”
When our Celtic (and British) ancestors came to North America, they brought Halloween with them. The hollowed-out and lighted turnip became a jack o’lantern pumpkin. As the years spun slowly on, this autumn festival night became commercialized. And, as happened in the early days of the Puritan colonies before, this night became derided by many Christians as “too dark” and “unspiritual,” even “dangerous.”
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Halloween can be an enchanting time. A time to remember those who have gone on before. A time to admit our own defeat of pride — that even in our modern age, we don’t always know everything. There are powers and forces beyond our understanding — and treating those things with respect is often a very foreign concept as we, here in the West, rarely understand humility.
And it’s a time to realize life can be terribly dark. Sad. Melancholy. But survival is not guided by denial. It’s guided by a gentle acceptance of truth both dark and light. And a willingness to let go of fear.
A SOTO Halloween Schedule
Old English Inn / Downing Street Pour House
5-6PM — Paul Haygood, storytelling
6-7PM — Michelle Szabo, storytelling
7-10PM — Live Music
Vintage Paris Coffee Shop
7:30PM onward — Macabre Art Show
10PM — Costume Contest
Please bring 3 to 5 carved pumpkins to Vintage Paris on Friday, October 27 or Saturday, October 28 and leave a $3 donation to cover the purchase of tea lights. Help us celebrate Halloween in style and light up Downing Street!
A State of the Ozarks Halloween, Saturday, October 28, 5PM to Midnight, on Downing Street, Hollister, Missouri. This event is FREE and kid-friendly.