Here we are the second week of October and already, I’m thinking Halloween.
I’ve never been a big fan of Halloween.
Oh, when I was a kid, we did the costumes and trick or treat thing. And in high school there were the parties. In college, I was much too “serious” a student to join a sorority. I was engaged to a military man so campus life for me consisted of attending classes and the occasional civil rights demonstration (this was the sixties, after all).
Then it was onto life on various military posts. Again, there were parties, but I can’t ever remember wearing a costume to one. When I had my daughter, we did fun things with her. But in the way of the world, she grew up and wanted to do her own Halloween things with her own friends.
So it was back to ignoring the holiday.
Then I started writing vampire stories. In formulating one story line, I discovered that Halloween had an interesting history rich in plot possibilities. What was that history?
1. Present day Halloween traditions can be traced to the ancient Celtic Day of the Dead.
2. Wearing costumes and giving out food were protection from, and an offering to, the souls of the dead, believed to be out and about on that day. Dressing like fairies, witches and demons and performing antics in exchange for food is the genesis of trick or treating.
3. The customs of bobbing for apples and carving pumpkins go back even further to the holiday of Samhain (pronounced sah-ween), a celebration of the harvest.
4. Samhain was the biggest and most important holiday of the Celtic year. It was the day the souls of those who had died during the year traveled into the otherworld. People sacrificed animals, fruits and vegetables and lit bonfires to aid the dead on their journey and keep them away from the living.
5. Christian missionaries were responsible for changing the practices of the Celtic people. In 601 AD, they assigned November 1st as All Saints Day, a substitute for Samhain, to replace the Celtic’s own holiday. But Samhain never died out completely. The evening before was (and is) still celebrated as the day of the traveling dead.
Of course, I’ve simplified and abbreviated the history. There’s a wealth of information on line if you want to learn more. The point is on October 31st, the dead are thought to be able to walk the earth. I used it as the chance for a witch to call up a demon. There are countless other possibilities.
Halloween takes on a much more exotic and dangerous element if you look at it as an ancient people once did. Maybe that’s why I’ve never liked the holiday. The little kiddies in the cute witch or devil costumes look harmless. But what about the adult in that Jason mask? Or that spooky figure dressed up like a demon? This is the one night of the year that you can’t always trust your eyes.
So, how about you? Do you love Halloween? Do you dress up and set those inhibitions free? What costume have you worn that was (or is) your absolute favorite? Or are you like me, sulking in the dark on Halloween, lights out, waiting for the night to be over?
Or maybe plotting how to use this night of the walking dead in your next book?