Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Halloween

No, it's not who you
think; it's me in my
Halloween costume

I can’t help but notice this year that almost all the houses in my neighborhood are festooned for Halloween.  Orange lights and tangles of spider webs, half buried in the lawn skeletons, witches on brooms suspended from porches, hearses parked in the drives—it is absolutely ghoulish here in suburbia.  And yet when Christmas and Chanukah come rolling round in December, fewer and fewer houses are illuminated these days.  O, there are some to be sure.  And you can see the appropriate tree or menorah in the windows—but the all-out-over-the-top Chevy Chase Christmas Vacation sort of exuberance is no longer quite the thing. 
Halloween, being so overtly secular, might be becoming more and more popular as easier to explain to the li’l ones than Chanukah and Christmas where it is particularly awkward to talk about without using the G Word.  Christmas has been pretty much secularized, along with having been commercialized, but still, some overly observant kid is likely to ask about the occasional angel or even the baby in the straw.  It is just too tricky a path to navigate, though, if you want to raise your kids free of all that guilt and inhibitions that religion brings.  But Halloween—hey knock yourself out.  Be a witch or a pirate or even a Kardashian.  Overdose on candy and get your sugar high cause when you grow up it is a night for excess too.  Adult themed Halloween parties are sooooo coooool!  You’ll never remember what you were drinking and you never know with whom you might wake up the next morning.  But that is the 21st century way of living life meaninglessly.
Don’t get me wrong.  I like Halloween.  I loved it as a kid—what kid doesn’t?  We all need some fantasy, a chance to be someone else—to escape into some wanna-be that lurks deep in our psyche.  There was an interesting article in the New York Times this morning on Halloween costumes and political correctness.   Apparently dressing up like Caitlyn Jenner, Pancho Villa, a geisha, or Pocahontas crosses a line.  I guess going out as the Reverend Al Sharpton, a knife-weilding ISIS terrorist, or Penny from Big Bang Theory would similarly be offensive.  For that matter I suppose Dr. Ben Carson, Hillary and the Donald are off limits (the first because of race, the second because of gender, the third because he’s just a jerk), though Ted Cruz might be acceptable.  What a bunch of hooey.  This is the one night where it is not correct to be politically correct.  This is our Feast of Fools where the sacred cows are meant to be mocked. 
Of course in the glorious days of the Church before the Reformation, the Feast of Fools was usually January 1.  People would dress like the bishop or the pope or even the village priest and give mock blessings and conduct mock rituals, even parodies of the Mass.  This was in the days before Bill Donahue and the Catholic League or Father Z or Rorate Caeli or other drab and humorless parodies of plaster saints would see sacrilege wherever idolatry was under siege.  But Halloween has become that day of de-sacralizing the sacred cows and the target has expanded far beyond the Church.  Popes and bishops should be relieved they are no longer the target, though lots of gay men like dressing up like the nuns of old.  Whoops, I guess that differentiating gay nun wanna-bes from the general population of nun wanna-bes isn’t politically correct either.  But then I am just not into political correctness.  It is too limiting of our ability to speak up and point out the foibles of the world around us. 
The name “Halloween” has Christian origins—and not very old ones at that.  The term first appears in present form only in the mid-eighteenth century.  It is a contraction of the more formal—and older—All Hallows Even.  Even is an antique form of our word “eve,” signifying evening, or more precisely “the evening before” such as Christmas Eve.  All Hallows refers to the feast of November 1, All Saints’ Day.  Hallows is another word for saints and still is commonly used in Ireland and Britain. “All Hallows” being a common term for “All Saints” in the dedication of Churches, schools, and other religious institutions. (A famous seminary of that name in Dublin was known as “All Shallows “ as a way of testifying to its less rigorous curriculum than the national seminary at Maynooth.)  The term “All Hallows Even” for October 31 can be traced back to the sixteenth century.
The weirdness of the day is pre-Christian.  Though many different cultures celebrated festivals at this time when summer was clearly over and the winter was beginning to make its presence felt, and some—such as pre-Columbian Mexico even associated these festivals with bridging the gap between the living and the dead—the primary influence in the development of Halloween was the Celtic (Irish and Scots) festival of Samhain.  This festival had a deeply mystical theme in which the veil separating the world of the living from the world of spirits was particularly thin at this time, allowing the dead as well as fairies, sprites, and other jinn to walk the earth.  If you have ever been to Ireland (real Ireland, not Dublin and its suburbs—you had might as well be in Hackensack as Dublin), especially in the west, once the sun goes down and especially in the winter months, it is very easy to believe in leprechauns and fairies.  Strange lights appear and travel over the bogs and sudden blasts of frigid air startle you, make you loose the thread of conversation, and are gone again.  Wispy tunes emerge from the distance and are gone again with the wind.  Of course, a pint or two of Guinness and a few belts of Irish Whiskey can enhance the experience but who is to argue with tradition? 
So for those super-Christians that think Halloween is of demonic origin or those whose sensitivity binds them in the chains of political correctness, just learn some history about what this day is all about and loosen up a bit.  And for the rest of us, let’s have some fun—responsible fun, but fun.  I think I’ll dress up as Cardinal Burke if I can get to Victoria’s Secret in time to find a suitable negligée to serve as my rochet   
By the way, I hope to do one or two more posts and then will take a leave for about three weeks while I tend to some personal matters.  more later.  


  1. Please, go for the Cardinal Burke getup!

  2. Thanks Consolami for reminding people of its Christian origin, and criticizing the stupid political correctness of others. Good post.