Monday, October 31, 2005

Halloween History In the Faking

It’s already a fact that I hate the Halloween season. The only redeeming feature I find in the Halloween holiday these days is the influx of late night horror movie marathons; and sadly, the scariest thing I’ve seen this season so far was ‘Man on the Moon’ with Jim Carrey. And if that’s not the most pitifully frightful thing you’ve ever seen, I don’t know what is. I've even been known to dig out an old Bauhaus album on the Halloween weekend as well - but that hardly makes me a Halloween fanatic.

To me, Halloween blows vampires. Take it from an old bartender, the only thing more loathsome than a barroom full of obnoxious drunks, is a barroom full of obnoxious drunks in costume. This is where my distaste for Halloween originated for me. And even though my life has changed since those long ago days in that I no longer have to serve and clean up after these masked morons, my intense hatred for Halloween has not. These costumed jackasses simply do not go away that easily. Even worse than dealing with the throngs of dutiful costumed retards in public places, is the fact that I also have to endure them at the workplace as well. So, besides the usual headache of having to deal with the hordes of brainless zombies, whether it be over a pine counter or a telephone headset, I have to endure it all while working alongside some dipshit dressed in a cow suit and a woman whose costume can only be described as someone having one fuck of a bad hair day and a green painted face that looks as if she has just eaten some bad schnitzel - and it does nothing to improve my healthy disposition over the day.

I don’t mind the whole kids getting dressed up to go ‘Trick or Treating’* thing, but grown adults should have grown out of this childish nonsense a long time ago. Sure everybody has a weird uncle who enjoyed dressing up in women’s clothes, but we don’t declare a holiday around him and go parading door-to-door begging for treats, now do we?

On a sidebar, considering it’s still early in the day and I haven’t had my mandatory dozen cups of milky tea yet, there is still the chance that I could inadvertently mule kick someone in the Charlie Brown’s in a blind ‘fight or flight’ panic should they suddenly come around the corner too quickly and bump into me accidentally. This risk of inflicted injury will increase exponentially with each passing day after Halloween, as the sugar-induced dementia begins to kick in after all the discounted Halloween candy I pick up from store shelves beginning November 1st. For the next week or so I’m going to be wound tighter than an ADS child after a Snickers Bar smorgasbord.

But anyways, where even did this damnable tradition come from exactly? Is it, as some claim, a kind of demon worship? Is it just a harmless vestige of some ancient pagan ritual? Or is just a day for idiots such as those seated beside me to dress up like imbeciles without fear of reprieve?

The word itself, "Halloween," actually has its origins in the Catholic Church (quel surprise there). It comes from a contracted corruption of All Hallows Eve. November 1, "All Hollows Day" (or "All Saints Day"), is a Catholic day of observance in honor of saints. But, in the 5th century BC, in Celtic Ireland, summer officially ended on October 31. This holiday was called Samhain (sow-en), the Celtic New Year.

On that day, the disembodied spirits of all those who had died throughout the preceding year would come back in search of living bodies to possess for the next year. It was believed to be their only hope for the afterlife. The Celts believed all laws of space and time were suspended during this time, allowing the spirit world to intermingle freely with the living. Naturally, the still living did not want to be possessed. So on the night of October 31, villagers would extinguish the fires in their homes to make them cold and undesirable. They would then dress up in all manner of ghoulish costumes, drink to the point of intoxicated inebriation, and noisily paraded around the neighborhood, being as destructive as possible in order to frighten away spirits looking for bodies to possess. In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops**, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter to come. After all, they didn’t have any ESPN or Dominoes Pizza back then.

To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other's fortunes. Sounds like Alice Cooper’s bar mitzvah. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.

So, if I’m interpreting this correctly, Halloween was started by a bunch of drunken paranoid vandals. Hmm. I suspect that the same holds true for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Boston every year as well as the production meetings for Jo-Jo’s Psychic Hotline. But I digress…
As European immigrants came to America by the rowboat-load, they brought their varied ridiculous Halloween customs with them. Because of the rigid Protestant belief systems that characterized early New England, celebration of Halloween in colonial times was extremely limited. Shit, if you so much as ever farted in the wrong direction, it could easily end up with you being fricasseed in the town square as a concubine of the devil.

It was much more common in Maryland and the southern colonies. As the beliefs and customs of different European ethnic groups, as well as the American Indians, meshed, a distinctly American version of Halloween began to emerge. The first celebrations included "play parties”,** public events held to celebrate the harvest, where neighbors would share stories of the dead, tell each other's fortunes, dance, and sing. Colonial Halloween festivities also featured the telling of ghost stories and mischief making of all kinds****. By the middle of the nineteenth century, annual autumn festivities were common, but Halloween was not yet celebrated everywhere in the country. General level entry into complete Assholedom had not yet reigned supreme.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, America was flooded with new immigrants. These new immigrants, especially the millions of Irish fleeing Ireland's potato famine of 1846, helped to popularize the celebration of Halloween nationally. Taking from Irish and English traditions, Americans began to dress up in costumes and go house-to-house asking for food or money, a practice that eventually became today's "trick-or-treat" tradition. In any other rational-minded civilization that may have ever existed elsewhere in the universe this would only get you boiled alive.

This odd custom of trick-or-treating is thought to have originated not with the Irish Celts, but with a ninth-century European custom called “souling”. On November 2, All Souls Day, early Christians would walk from village to village begging for "soul cakes," made out of square pieces of bread with currants. Mmmm, bread with currents – I still fail to see the big whoop. The more soul cakes the beggars would receive, the more prayers they would promise to say on behalf of the dead relatives of the donors. At the time, it was believed that the dead remained in limbo for a time after death, and that prayer, even by strangers, could expedite a soul's passage to heaven.

Young women believed that, on Halloween, they could divine the name or appearance of their future husband by doing tricks with yarn, apple parings, or mirrors. And once again speaking only as an ex-seasoned bartender, they now just get skanked up, strap on a pair of fairy wings, and go bobbing for cock in the alleyway behind the bar. What is it with girls and this fairy wing fetish lately anyways? Someboy's making a fortune selling these friggin' things. But lets face it: putting on your best fuck-me dress and donning a pair of nylon wings does not make you a fairy princess - it makes you a whore with wings. But again, I digress...

The Jack-o-lantern custom probably comes from Irish folklore. As the tale is told, a man named Jack, who was notorious as a drunkard and trickster, tricked Satan into climbing a tree. Jack then carved an image of a cross in the tree's trunk, trapping the devil up the tree. Jack, being the sneaky dick he was, made a deal with the devil that if he would never tempt him again, he would promise to let him down the tree.

According to the folk tale, after Jack died, he was denied entrance to Heaven because of his evil ways, but he was also denied access to Hell because he had tricked the devil. Talk about being screwed! Instead, the devil gave him a single ember to light his way through the frigid darkness. The ember was placed inside a hollowed-out turnip to keep it glowing longer. The Irish used turnips as their "Jack's lanterns" originally. But when the immigrants came to America, they found that pumpkins were far more plentiful than turnips. So the Jack-O-Lantern in America was a hollowed-out pumpkin, lit with an ember. I wonder how much Guinness one needs to consume before the idea of boring out a gourd and setting it on fire becomes a good idea?

So, although some cults may have adopted Halloween as their favorite "holiday," the day itself did not grow out of evil practices. It grew out of the rituals of Celts celebrating a new year, out of medieval prayer rituals of Europeans, and from drunken bimsters begging door-to-door.

Unfortunately, this all does very little to make me feel any better about being here working today beside a cow and the Wicked Witch of the West, or whatever it is that she’s supposed to be. But at least bitching about it passes the day a little quicker until we can all get off work and I can meet them out in the car and introduce their craniums to my tire iron.

* Apart from those too-cool teenaged bastards who come around begging after hours for whatever is leftover afterwards. I prefer to hand them specially wrapped cat turds instead.

** Wait, who’s damaging what here?

*** Which has since evolved into a decidedly different adult variation of begging for tricks and treats


**** At that time, the favorite pranks in New England included tipping over outhouses and unhinging fence gates. Just one more head-scratcher over why and how this holiday ever got so popularized in the first place. Sure it was funny back then, but do we have to continue celebrating that fact now?

2 Comments:

Blogger Superhappyjen said...

"Apart from those too-cool teenaged bastards who come around begging after hours for whatever is leftover afterwards."

I always give them more candy. For 2 reasons: 1. They don't have many halloweens left. 2. They are able to eat more candy than the average 4-year-old.

I hate when they don't bother with costumes though. Your football equipment/cheerleading outfit/MacDonald's uniform is NOT a costume.

10:14 AM  
Blogger Ash_G said...

Hey, I finally got around to reading some of your stuff. Soo funny! And for the record, Halloween can be cool ... just look at at the cheesy horror movie marathons that are on! Just give me a horror movie, and I'm the happiest little girl in the world ha ha. I had to sign up to this site, just to comment, hence the name ;)so now I can annoy you outside of work as well. Your stuck with me forever now ha ha.

8:40 PM  

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