Halloweens spellbinding customs

By Caryl Clem:

As summer ends on October 31 and fall begins November 1st according to the Gaul calendar, the boundary between the living and the dead dissolves freeing spirits of the past to roam free. Unknown whether a visiting spirit is friend or foe, your logical defense was to dress up like a ghost spirit to camouflage that you are still alive. Food is served for all visitors to spread the message of goodwill. Samhain was the most important holiday for Celts in pre-Christian times.  Later, medieval poor of all ages go door to door begging for “Soul Cakes”, in exchange for praying for the family’s past relatives on the Catholic Church’s All Saints Day.

In Scotland and Ireland, the youth dressed up knocking on neighbors doors entertaining the door opener with a heartfelt song, poetry, or telling a funny story. After a brief performance and review of the costume, a reward of fruit, nuts, or coins would be given. During the potato famine in 1846, over 300,000  people from Ireland and Scotland headed for North America .

The influence of Scottish, Irish and British Halloween customs started to spread across America. By the late 1800’s, it was a common practice. Wealthy families competed by hosting elaborate Halloween parties offering food, games, dancing, and drink for costumed guests. Churches offered parties for the young and old that my grandmother, born in 1885 and mother born in 1908, remembered.

Apples were sacrificial fruit in pagan times.  By 1800’s in the northeastern states. apple bobbing meant  male guests diving for previously marked apples secretly coded by ladies. The coupling between these women and men is believed destined to occur. If a young lady can peel an apple in one long strip, she throws the strip over her right shoulder to glance at the letter the apple peel forms on the floor. The initial formed foretells of a lover nearby with a name of that letter.  At midnight, a maiden can look between a lit Jack O’Lantern and a mirror  to find an image of her future husband.

Halloween is less scary as chubby faced  kids appear celebrating Halloween fun in 1904  by artist Grace Drayton, Campbell Soup kid creator. The postcard craze postcard craze to celebrate Halloween lasted from late 1890’s until 1918. A delightful sample is in this link Brave this bounty of 27 beautiful and bizarre antique Halloween… 

The Depression and a sugar ration dampened Halloween giving until the late 1930’s as communities started to sponsor family/kid friendly activities.

 

What was your best or worse Halloween costume?

For me, it began when my son was only two and hated being a clown. That’s because the face Mom had painted on his delicate skin was way too scary for Halloween. He scared himself when he looked in the mirror and trick or treating was just out of the question. Mom’s first costume attempt was not too good and thought he would forever be damaged by a poor holiday experience. But it did get better when the following year he liked being a beggar, carrying his stick of wrapped clothes in a scarf though when I think about it, maybe that wasn’t a good choice either.

As a child, I loved autumn with the breathtaking color of the season, pressing leaves in scrapbooks, spending hours selecting a costume and, of course, carving a pumpkin with, for me, Dad. It was his job to cut but I scrapped away the innards. The only time I liked kitchen duty. And I remember being a gypsy, Little Bo Peep with a crooked staff that eventually gave way to the wind on Halloween, and a date girl wearing a beautiful wide skirt with mini calendars attached. Among the many dressed as Super Man, witches, Bat girl, Sleeping Beauty and Minnie Mouse, cowboys and Indians, and of course, Casper, with silly masks to match our attire back in the 1960s. Dressed in a white sheet or a Frankenstein mask was about the extent of what was scary. Maybe a devil took you by surprise as well.

And the neighborhood was packed with children trick or treating; knowing the adults that answered their doors. If we didn’t have an appropriate trick or treat bag, a pillow case would do and besides the candy bars, suckers and bazooka gum with comics, we would get even more like a popcorn ball. Sometimes we would worry about the occasional razor blade showing up in our candy but candy being spiked with chemicals was rare.

In the nineties, as my son and daughter celebrated the season each year, costume decisions improved after the first fiasco to include Robin Hood and a court jester, a baby. a Power Ranger instead of Super Man and a nerd with a huge dictionary….not a computer… Though there was one Halloween, that costumes were trash bags since the rain was incessant for trick or treating. That didn’t stop us. We also decided that a carved pumpkin was not enough so the house was dressed with lovely rust and yellow floral arrangements and a yard filled with ghosts, signs, funny gravestones, and spider webs throughout.

Now, though there are no grandchildren, nothing has changed with the exception of less children knocking on the door on October 31st. Though the signs have become faded and the gravestones totter, new additions such as a family of scarecrows have been added, floral arrangements refurbished and my 20 plus daughter coming to spend a pre-Halloween weekend, carving the best pumpkin ever, while munching on roasted pumpkin seeds and home-made pumpkin bread.

Once a child, forever a child and another year of adding more pictures to that scrapbook or should I say, Facebook page instead.