Halloween is a truly great holiday. On what other day of the year can you don a ridiculous costume, beg strangers for candy and come home with a bagful, tell deliciously scary stories, and find alternate uses for eggs and toilet paper? Halloween's religious aspects have faded considerably over the years, but the Gods of Retail have given it the same status as the great bigwigs Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, Valentine's Day, and Easter. There are no end to the recipes and crafts that have been designed specifically for this final day in October, using the motifs of black cats, witches, grim reapers, ghosts, mummies, monsters, and skeletons, using the famous orange and black coloring.
As you eat your candy corn and search your closet for that long black wig, you probably won't bother to wonder why Halloween is even important. It actually holds no importance to the modern human being whatsoever - we celebrate it because it's fun. However, only in the early 20th century did Halloween emerge from its dark roots as a "fun" day.
Centuries ago, November 1st celebrated the Goddess Pamona with a celebration called Samhain. Most folks recall that November 1st is All Saints Day. Pamona was the Roman goddess of fruits and gardens. (That's some Roman history behind Halloween.) The night prior to this day was known in the old days (here comes the Celtic history) as All Hallow's Eve, when the dead rose and gouls and ghosts and zombies roamed. Late October was an appropriate time for this to happen; days were shorter and colder than they had been in months, and the trees were suddenly bare. It wouldn't be long before cold, sadistic winter froze the earth and killed the crops, therefore killing life. November 2nd, All Souls Day, was a day to celebrate the dead. These three traditions merged into one as Christianity's reign fused into what was once the Roman Empire.
Halloween in America didn't mean quite the same thing as it had over in Europe. While the Puritains saw Halloween as evil and Satanic (the same folks who weren't into the whole "Christmas gifts" thing), in the mid-to-late-19th century, Halloween became more a day of merry-making than anything else. This time of autumn meant harvest time, and what better way to take a break between harvesting than bobbing for apples, or carving pumpkins. Trick o'Treating evolved from beggars begging people to pray for the dead to housewives giving children candy so they wouldn't be "tricked." By World War II, the Halloween that we now know and love was in full order.
Halloween is an ideal time for a party, but if you're not having or going to one, you can still celebrate:
- Wear a costume (bonus points for wearing it to school or work).
- Go trick o'treating, even if you're over the age of 10.
- Buy a ton of candy, but don't give it all away to the little fairies and vampires and Spidermen at your door.
- Read a book with a Halloween theme (most are found in the children's section, but some, such as The Secret of the Sachem's Tree by F. N. Monjo, are actually really good; girls under the age of 12 will also like Meet Molly from the American Girl's series).
- Read anything spooky - ghost stories, Anne Rice, or your ex's diary (just kidding).
- Decorate your house inside and out with Halloween decorations. Little lights shaped like pumpkins and fake gravestones are nice.
- Hang a sprig of witch hazel over your door to keep away witches (and hopefully the local Mormons), but do NOT substitute the witch hazel that comes in bottles from the drugstore - have you ever smelled that stuff? Yuck.
- Arm yourself with eggs and toilet paper, especially if you have a lot of enemies. If the stores are out of it, hope they're not out of soap.
- Watch the Travel Channel to find out about the world's most haunted places, but don't watch the late-night reruns if you're not planning on staying up an extra few hours to cleanse your system with the Cartoon Network. (If you're really easily frightened, stick with The Great Pumpkin.)
- Finish the candy before Thanksgiving this year! If that's too soon, at least eat it up by Christmas. And along those lines, last year's candy canes do not make appropriate treats for the neighborhood children. No one likes to get egged and TPed, but some of us just ask for it.