Monday, October 27, 2014

Time, time, time, see what's become of me....

To be honest, the whole post is just an excuse for this gif.

This apparently, is what Halloween is becoming:

"I have noticed that on Halloween, what seems like 75 percent of the trick-or-treaters are clearly not from this neighborhood. Kids arrive in overflowing cars from less fortunate areas. I feel this is inappropriate. Halloween isn’t a social service or a charity in which I have to buy candy for less fortunate children," the anonymous homeowner whined.

"99 Percent" felt a little bad about wanting to cancel Halloween, but worse about taxes.

"Obviously this makes me feel like a terrible person, because what’s the big deal about making less fortunate kids happy on a holiday? But it just bugs me, because we already pay more than enough taxes toward actual social services," "99 Percent" wrote.
Well, I'm being unfair; that's probably NOT what Halloween's becoming; but the international back fence that is now the internet has made available to us all the small-mindedness of some, and it's no surprise we assume it is the attitude of the many.

Or we fear it is, anyway.

But isn't fear what Halloween is all about?

I don't honestly know where Halloween came from.  Various on-line sources connect it to Samhain, the Irish harvest (except it probably had nothing to do with a harvest; see below) festival, and to celebrations that came to this country from Ireland and other European countries in the 19th century.  Seems reasonable enough, if Samhain is connected to All Saint's Day.  But New Advent is my preferred on-line source for these matters, and it doesn't connect the day to the festival.  Pope Boniface did indeed establish an anniversary on March 13 for the dedication of the Pantheon in Rome to the Virgin and all the martyrs.  Pope Gregory III consecrated a chapel in St. Peters to the saints on November 1, about a century later.  Then Pope Gregory IV extended anniversary on November 1 to all of the church sometime in the early 9th century.

Which is not quite the story you get at other internet sites, viz:

On May 13, 609 A.D., Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon in Rome in honor of all Christian martyrs, and the Catholic feast of All Martyrs Day was established in the Western church. Pope Gregory III (731–741) later expanded the festival to include all saints as well as all martyrs, and moved the observance from May 13 to November 1. By the 9th century the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands, where it gradually blended with and supplanted the older Celtic rites.
I throw that in because, first:  why not?, and second, because close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.  Sir James Frazer seems to have started the idea that All Saint's was connected to Samhain, but the only evidence he offers is that the former is a thin overlay on the latter.  (Frazer also sold us on the connection between Mithraism and Christianity, a connection no one sees anymore.  His scholarship didn't prove to last very long, in other words.)  History indicates it seems to have been more of a coincidence than not, and that in the 7th and 8th centuries the Irish church was celebrating All Saint's on April 20.  And when Gregory moved the festival, why was he concerned with practices in Ireland?  Especially since the Irish church was fine with a date in April?  And that's all long before the 9th century, so I'm left wondering whose dates are these anyway?

The history gets more interesting when you throw in All Souls:

In the early days of Christianity the names of the departed brethren were entered in the diptychs. Later, in the sixth century, it was customary in Benedictine monasteries to hold a commemoration of the deceased members at Whitsuntide. In Spain there was such a day on Saturday before Sexagesima or before Pentecost, at the time of St. Isidore (d. 636). In Germany there existed (according to the testimony of Widukind, Abbot of Corvey, c. 980) a time-honoured ceremony of praying to the dead on 1 October. This was accepted and sanctified by the Church. St. Odilo of Cluny (d. 1048) ordered the commemoration of all the faithful departed to be held annually in the monasteries of his congregation. Thence it spread among the other congregations of the Benedictines and among the Carthusians.

Of the dioceses, Liège was the first to adopt it under Bishop Notger (d. 1008). It is then found in the martyrology of St. Protadius of Besançon (1053-66). Bishop Otricus (1120-25) introduced it into Milan for the 15 October.
No apparent connection to Samhain there, especially since October seems to have been the preferred date.  I imagine it was moved to November 2 to line up against November 1, and not to "paper over" some connection to pagan practices, which can't have been all that widespread and in need of adoption by the church in the 10th and 11th centuries.  (I highlighted the line about the German observance because it seems an obvious root for the German E&R Totenfest.  It transferred from the German Catholics to the German Protestants, probably with a strong connection through the Lutherans.  These things to persist in cultures, but it isn't always a Christian overlay on a pagan ceremony.)

While we're on the subject, Samhain is usually referred to as a "Harvest" Festival.  However, as Frazer points out (on this I find him reliable),  by November 1 the harvest is already long in from the fields.  Urban dwellers miss this point, but I remember my two years in a southern Illinois country church, and the fields were bare long before October 31.  So it's no significant date for farmers, but Frazer points out it is significant for herdsman.  November 1 (or thereabouts) would mark the time to drive the flocks in from the field for the winter.  It would be a very significant date indeed for shepherds in Ireland (and it was).  Frazer goes on to note, with no real particularity, that the time of transition from autumn to winter (i.e., time to bring the flocks in from the fields) was celebrated across Europe as a time when the departed returned to earth (probably to seek warmth, too, Frazer conjectures, as winter winds began to blow) and when witches and demons wandered free, seeking to do mischief (again, because winter in northern Europe is hard).  Frazer tends to speak in these sweeping generalizations, which makes his work less than reliable over all; but it makes sense in a Northern European climate to connect winter with death, and the coming of winter with the return, briefly, of the dead (who are, in sense, never lost to the living, so long as memory remains).  So while the connection between Halloween and Ireland is a bit obscure, except for the jack o'lanterns, which I'll accept were Irish (though probably originally made from turnips, pumpkins being an American plant).

You can get all kinds of bad information on this topic.  Here's an excerpt from "American Catholic," calling Samhain "the Lord of the Dead" and attributing the date of November 1 to Gregory III about 100 years after his papacy ended.  I haven't found that designation anywhere else.  The link to Roman rituals involving Pomona and apples is another common thread, but knowing what little I do about the Romans, the idea a festival from an obscure backwater like Ireland would become a major festival of the empire is a bit ludicrous.  After all, the Romans never became Jews, and only because Christians in the 4th century because the Emperor became one.  The Romans were syncretistic to some degree, but mostly they left local cultures alone. They certainly didn't regularly re-write their own cultures to adopt all the practices of lands they had conquered (any more than the Roman Catholic church actually absorbed lots of pagan practices.  That's more likely a bit of anti-Papist slander from 19th century Anglicans like Frazer, akin to the 15th century designation of the "Dark Ages.")

The point is, it brings me back to the "Peace Sign," which in my callow youth was identified as a Satanic symbol.  I had a pair of leather sandals with leather peace signs attached to them, and still remember the conversation with a very scared mother of an acquaintance, that my sandals were going to invite demons into my life and, more importantly, into the soul of her daughter.

You can't make this stuff up.

Turns out, of course, it was invented as a peace sign by a British anti-nukes group in the '50's (you can look it up, I can't do everything for you).  As far as I'm concerned, Halloween was invented in America in the '50's, too (I've read that's when candy makers decided to tame the holiday.  The History Channel apparently said it started in the 30's, though.  I dunno; everybody's got their version, and even scholars can't agree on how Christmas came to be what it is.  So who can say about Halloween?)  The one Ray Bradbury eulogized was as real to me as a Dickensian Christmas would be:  a product of the author's experiences, nothing more.  Do we do it "right" now?  Compared to what?  It's an excuse to wear costumes and roam the streets freely (not so freely as in my youth) and gather treats from friendly strangers (but, alas, no more the homemade kind!) and generally have a nationwide block party when you aren't yet old enough to go to a party without your parents at all.

What could be wrong with that?

It's barely that anymore, I know.  We took my daughter to other neighborhoods when she was young, because we didn't live in a neighborhood at all (we lived in a parsonage on the church grounds on what was now a very busy urban street, lined with businesses and apartment complexes as friendly and inviting as prisons).  It doesn't matter where Halloween came from; what matters is what we do with it.

I think we need to keep it for the children.  And maybe find a way to make homemade treats acceptable again.  They were always the prize in the bag of candy at the end of the night.


  1. Reminds me of the time when JR and I got into it, she claiming that Santa Claus had nothing to do with the very real Bishop, St. Nicholas.

    One of the most useful things for me about the internet is the amazing revelation of how shoddy the concept of research is among the college educated these days. Any old thing that you like being true is true. And that's for the brain-trust of the "reality community". I will acknowledge that it's even worse in some places such as the comment threads of Alternet, Salon, etc.

  2. Oh, and I really like that last picture. It reminds me of when I wore my academic gown with the hood over my head to be "death" when one of my nieces wouldn't go in the Halloween procession in her town. I would have made her mother wear it but it was too long for her.

    Academic gown as death costume. I wonder what kind of allegory that would make.

  3. "Kids arrive in overflowing cars from less fortunate areas. I feel this is inappropriate. Halloween isn’t a social service or a charity in which I have to buy candy for less fortunate children."

    Hard to know what to say about something like this.

    Makes me remember my wife's stories, growing up in east Dallas, how she and her friends would always trick-or-treat at H.L. Hunt's house--a gaudy imitation Mount Vernon on White Rock Lake. The kids would be ushered in to the big man sitting in an enormous upholstered chair in front of a great fireplace, a largely motionless, Buddha-like figure in half-shadow, handing out silver dollars. Who knew the man was a socialist?

    I remember, when I last lived in Our Home Town, that the great majority of trick-or-treaters were Hispanic kids in huge groups. I was happy they were still out there--most of the middle class parents had, by the 80s-90s, been convinced that every block had Halloween-candy-poisoners, and their kids were marched off to pitiful Halloween parties, or worse, "harvest festivals."

    sic transit gloria.

  4. I remember, when I last lived in Our Home Town, that the great majority of trick-or-treaters were Hispanic kids in huge groups. I was happy they were still out there--most of the middle class parents had, by the 80s-90s, been convinced that every block had Halloween-candy-poisoners, and their kids were marched off to pitiful Halloween parties, or worse, "harvest festivals."

    And then there was the time, when I was pastoring here, that we decided to have a Halloween party for the apartments and the kids at the nearby elementary school. The principal found out about our fliers at the school and pulled them, resulting in a conversation where I had to convince the principal my Christian church was not engaging in Satanic rituals, so his parents needn't fear.

    It was a good party anyway.....