On the Bright Side
October 23, 2021
I love the month of October for many reasons – the little chill in the air, the leaves turning colors, the every-now-and-then brisk breeze that turns into a surprise snowfall, baseball playoffs and football season, hayrides and bonfires. And while I do enjoy those things immensely, I also really like all the scary movies on the big and little screens and the Halloween-type celebrations that happen right down the street. Dark and scary times, fright nights, haunted houses, a good adrenaline rush to get the heart going and the glands sweating.
As far back as I can remember, I have always loved the telling of macabre tales and ghost stories through horror books and frightful movies and tellings around a campfire. Family lore, however, tells me that wasn't always the case – the story goes that when I was four years old I was so scared of Captain Hook and the crocodile when my folks took me to the drive-in to see Peter Pan that I hid under the car seat and cried, but I have no conscious memory of that. All of my own personal memories as a kid involve loving being scared to death.
These days I don't dress up or decorate, myself, but I love to see what other people do – I'm so glad so many other people love Halloween, too!
Actually, Halloween originated over 2,000 years ago in what is now Ireland. The Celtic holiday was part of an ancient festival called "Samhain" that celebrated the new year, which began on November 1, marking the end of summer and the beginning of the cold, hard winter...a time that was often associated with death.
It was (still is?) believed that the night before the new year, October 31, was a night when the boundaries between the living and the dead got blurred and ghosts might return to earth. People wore costumes at the celebration and burned giant bonfires and sacrificed animals so that the spirits might not make too much trouble for them during the winter.
By 40-something AD, after Rome had conquered the British Isles, Samhain was combined with a couple of Roman holidays; one was Feralia, a late October holiday to commemorate the passing of the dead; and the other was a celebration for Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees, which is probably when bobbing for apples became part of the Halloween tradition we know today.
Around 800 AD, Christians decided they didn't like the idea of the pagan celebration of the dead, so Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 as "All Saint's Day" to honor saints and martyrs instead. His celebration was also known as All-Hallows, among other names, and the night of October 31 became known as All-Hallows Eve, eventually shortened to "Halloween."
Through the centuries, Halloween has been celebrated all over the world with the same eerie similarities: the living mixing with the dead, the idea of "tricks or treats," dressing up in costumes, and lighting candles and fires. The jack-o-lantern, according to British folktales, was named for Jack O'Lantern, who was banned from both heaven and hell when he died, condemned to wander the earth with his lantern for eternity.
It looks like human beings have liked Halloween for a long time, and we still do. Over the course of this month I've seen houses with newly planted tombstones in the front yard and ghosts hanging from the trees, giant spiders crawling on roofs and skeletons climbing walls. A little dripping blood from the gutters. And red eyes peering from a window.
I love it all – actually, I love scary stuff all year round – but there is just something special about October that really sets the stage for a 'specially spooky time. It's colder and darker; leaves skitter; shapes move in the night just beyond my peripheral vision. October means Halloween, horror movies, scary stories. Ghosts and goblins and werewolves, oh my! And it's been that way for ages.
Happy Halloween to you all!
© 2021 Marilda Mel White. Mel White, local writer/photographer and owner of Tehachapi Treasure Trove, has been looking on the bright side (in spite of her love of the scary side) for various publications since 1998. She welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.