by Suzanne Wiley, volunteer contributor
It is widely believed that our tradition of Halloween originates from the ancient Gaelic festival of Samhain (pronounced SAH-win). Samhain, beginning on October 31 marked the end of summer for the ancient Irish people. This time was the end of harvest and when people prepared for the long winter ahead—a season often referred to as the “darker half.” It was during these few days the Celts believed the line between the two worlds of the living and the dead blurred and ghosts and witches roamed freely in the world of the living. To them, this night of spirits was not particularly scary or malevolent like we tend to thing of the supernatural. In fact, those who celebrated Samhain would set places at the dinner table or around the fire to welcome the ghosts of dead loved ones. At night, they would light candles and bonfires and feast. Since then, throughout history, cultures all around Europe continued the tradition of a feasting around harvest time and light fires in order to guide the ghosts as they roamed.
As Christianity spread, religious leaders tried to do away with pagan rituals and traditions, Samhain being one of them. In attempt to replace Samhain, Catholic leaders declared November 1 the day of the feast of All Saints. When that didn’t work, the Catholic Church declared November 2 as All Souls Day, a day to pray for those who had died, thinking that perhaps it would appease the Celts. All Saints Day—also known as All Hallows Eve—is where we get the name Halloween. To this day, October 31 is celebrated by recognizing all things creepy such as ghosts, witches, ghouls, and goblins.
Many of our modern day Halloween traditions are deep-rooted from the ancient festival of Samhain and the traditions picked up along the way. We dress up in costume as some did to confuse the spirits, we trick or treat- a tradition starting in the Middle Ages where people would entertain others in return for food. Many of our symbols stem from this ancient harvest festival as well- corn stalks, pumpkins and scare crows.
Though costumes range the span of superheroes and Disney characters, the most popular costumes for adults are scary like witches, vampires, skeletons or other bloody character. The paranormal still dominates Halloween despite all the silly and “sexy” costumes. We decorate our homes with fake gravestones, body parts and spooky lighting. We serve hot dogs made to look like severed fingers and red cocktails served over dry ice to mimic drinking blood. Halloween allows us to be morbid and seek out that which frightens us. Though there is no record of Samhain being a night of frights, we Americans sure have made turned into that. Indeed, we also know we aren’t going to starve during winter.
Unlike our other major holidays, there is not one thing Americans will agree on that we are actually celebrating on Halloween. Are we celebrating the dead? The undead? That seems morbid. Do dentists feast because they know we’re keeping them in business? As the second most profitable holiday in America, what exactly IS Halloween?
If it is the night spirits walk around in our world, we sure have stretched the imagination of what the other world consists of, haven’t we? The Celts welcomed and warded off spirits, fairies and witches. Besides those, we also have to ward off vampires, werewolves, zombies, headless horseman and dead or undead manic serial killers who just won’t die. Ever. Boy, Halloween is a busy night for America’s underworld. After the candy is eaten and the Jack O’Lantern candle is blown out and the witching hour is nigh, I have a suggestion on what you need to be prepared instead of scared.
For $45, The American Red Cross Emergency Preparedness Starter Kit has every thing you need to get through these next few days of the dead.
Flashlight and batteries-If you have watched one episode of Ghost Adventures or Ghost Hunters, you know that ghosts really only like the dark.
Am/FM Radio- Listening to your favorite station will drown out the howls from coming outside your bedroom window. In addition, you won’t miss any emergency broadcast in case the zombie apocalypse begins or aliens attack.
Reflective blanket-Bloody Mary-free!
First aid kit- You will want to wrap sterile gauze around those two bite marks you got on your neck.
Food packs- Fighting ghouls takes energy.
Toiletries such as toothbrush, toothpaste, and soap-Zombies don’t have the best hygiene!
Breathing mask-Rotting flesh doesn’t smell anywhere close to roses
Rain poncho-Drape this over your head to disguise yourself as one of the ghosts to confuse them.
Whistle-As one of the most practical items in the kit, use your whistle to let others (living others) know you need help.
Water- Water in a preparedness kit should be self-explanatory. You can only go about 100 hours without drinking water. Without this, you will join the ranks of the dead.
Without a kit, I can only wish you good luck and Godspeed!
Halloween is all good and fun, but remember to stay safe. Children are four more times likely to be hit by a car on Halloween than on any other night of the year. Trick or Treat in groups, with at least one adult to supervise. Start out early to avoid running around in the dark, walk only on the sidewalk and cross the street at designated crosswalks. Carry flashlights, glow sticks, wear a blinking light, or attach reflective tape to children’s costumes. And remember, if they look like a zombie, act like a zombie and smell like a zombie, they probably are a zombie.