Eat, drink and be scary is good advice on Halloween.
To terrify others is perhaps the best suggestion I can give you if you consider what could happen if you don’t invoke fear and loathing from everyone that you meet during the upcoming holiday.
A Scottish saying asks that the
Good Lord, deliver us,
From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night.
Tradition has it that the custom of wearing costumes hails from a time when to be recognized could mean certain death. During the Celtic festival (and New Year) of Samhain, one would wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts or disembodied spirits that were looking for living bodies to possess. In addition to wearing disguises, it was advised to build large bonfires and leave bowls of food outside to keep those dead troublemakers from entering your house.
Samhain, which translates into “summer end,” could have been the original fall celebration from which Halloween has evolved. When the Celtic lands were conquered by the Romans, this seasonal festival changed to encompass Roman festivities. Two special Roman events added their own twist to the party.
Feralia was a day to commemorate the passing of the dead, and Pomana was a day to honor the Roman goddess of the same name, who was the goddess of fruit and trees. Pomana’s symbol was, of course, the apple, which has been a prominent feature of Halloween now and in the past.
The apple provides fodder for a few important long-standing games that were used as a sort of marital divination. Traditional Scottish lore advises a woman to carve an apple and leave the peel in one long strip. Toss the peel over her shoulder and it will land in the shape of one or two letters that are the initials of her future spouse. Bobbing for apples was a game in which the winner would be the first to marry!
Another holiday suggestion, devoid of any apple lore, but important nevertheless, directs an unmarried maiden to sit in a darkened room and gaze into a mirror on Halloween night and look for the face of her future husband reflected in the mirror. She should hope that a skull does not appear in the mirror, for if that is what she sees, the woman will die before marriage.
Eventually Christianity came into fashion, and, with it, a movement to take away the pagan rituals of the holiday and bring the celebration into the religious fold. To that end, during the eighth century, Pope Gregory 3rd designated Nov. 1 as the time to honor saints and martyrs. Thus this holiday was renamed All Saints’ Day or All Hallows’ Day, which gave way to our familiar Halloween, the eve before that day.
Even the trick-or-treat tradition is not our own. That came from the practice during seasonal All Souls’ parades in England, when the poor would beg for food and money in exchange for prayers for the givers’ relatives. Families provided “soul cakes,” a food for the beggars.
Americans, of course, have taken Halloween to a new level. Collectively, we spend more than six billion dollars on Halloween, making it the second largest commercial holiday in the country — over 25 per cent of all candy sales happen during this period.
While I am not so sure that is something to be proud of, I do wish the best for all of the revelers who will be out on Oct. 31. Have fun, be safe, and as an unknown author said, “When black cats prowl and pumpkins gleam, May luck be yours on Halloween.”
Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.