The word “happy” makes me happy. We use it to recognize people on their birthdays, to think about our blessings on Thanksgiving, to wish people well during the Christmas and Hanukka seasons, to welcome the new year. But what exactly makes Halloween a happy occasion?
It has a long, interesting history, beginning with the ancient Celts who celebrated their new year on November 1st. They believed that the night before their new year, the ghosts of the dead returned to Earth, creating mayhem among the living. Eventually, 9th century Christianity appropriated the Celtic holiday and called it All Saints Day, with Halloween being the eve of that hallowed time. (Check out this History channel article for a detailed look at the history.) For the Celts, I imagine that the happy time was twofold: the harvest was officially in and a new year was upon them, when once again the dead would go back to where they belonged.
For many of us today, Halloween is a fun time, especially for children. I loved it as a child. In my small Florida town (about 3500), all the kids in costumes gathered near Main Street for a parade to the Women’s Club, which held a little carnival with bobbing apples, game booths, and candied apples and pies. When it got dark, we’d gang up with our friends and go trick-or-treating – without adults. It was a safe time. And a time when we roamed all over the little town freely. We were wildly happy together– and candy-rich by the time we wandered home.
People didn’t go all out to decorate their yards back then, as many do today. Sometimes there were jack-o-lanterns on the stoops or sheet ghosts in the yard, and sometimes the adults who answered the door would try to scare us in their homemade witch or ghost costumes. We were always treated. I don’t remember playing a single trick.
Today, some of us as adults hold costume parties. And others, like me and my husband, had the great pleasure for a number of years of trick-or-treating with our three grandchildren in the Fox Valley. Alas, they’ve outgrown having us tag along. And I get that; for me as a child, the great fun of Halloween was prowling the streets in costume with my costumed friends and seeing other kid gangs in their various costumes and guessing who they were (we knew about everyone within a few years of our age group).
The worsening covid pandemic (and, even before that, the fear of harm to our children) has dampened the joy of this year’s Halloween. Nevertheless, I hope you’re planning to have a little Halloween fun tonight – or shortly thereafter. Be happy. Make someone else happy, however you can.
Photos: Our Halloween sock monkey; grandkids’ jack-o-lanterns in times past; grandkids showing off their pumpkins in other times past; grandkids, Doug and I preparing to go trick-or-treating; card creation by Lee Ann, my good friend in Boise.