Monday, October 25, 2021

What "Our Hallowe'en" Reflects

So I decided to post this, finally, because I came across this in my archives from 2014:

"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.

I submit it as proof Trump hasn't made us any worse; he just hasn't made us any better.  Biden hasn't been in office long enough to really have an impact, unfortunately.

Some of my best childhood memories revolve around Hallowe'en.  My mother's youngest sister, the "crazy" aunt who came to our church Halloween party (this was when I was just barely too old to wander the streets at night with the "children"), put on makeup to look like a corpse in a coffin, and then joined us to bob for apples (probably the first time I'd done that, and I found out what hard, wet work it is.  And what absolutely foolish fun.).  Or just the freedom of wandering the streets at night without my parents in tow, joining all the neighborhood kids of the Baby Boom as we walked from house to house in clumps that gathered and broke again, passing stories of where to get the best candy, or the homemade stuff like popcorn balls and caramel apples, stuff always gone by the time you got there, or always from a house several streets over of undetermined location or ill-defined description.  And the story always included that house being "out" by the time your heard of it.  It prepared us for Christmases when we'd have to find the "IT" toy for our kids in an unforeseeable future.  My wife dressing up in black tights and leotard as a "cat" for our daughter's first Hallowe'en....oh, wait.  You don't need to hear about that one.

All the internet bluster about Hallowe'en and Samhain seems to have faded now, as well as the business of Hallowe'en being "stolen" from "ancient practices."  Most of that is echoing remnants of the early 19th century, Romanticism turning into Victorianism.  It was the Romantic movement that began to preserve "folklore," as it came to be called.  "Came to be" not because it was illegitimate, but because it was ignored and despised before the Romantics, who saved it but didn't revive it.  The Victorians then supercharged it, along with fuzzy memories of medieval Europe.  Most of the ghost stories and "monsters" we know now (vampires, werewolves, ghosts, goblins, etc.) are products of the Victorian imagination, not remnants of stories told around campfires 3 millenia ago.  The Victorians tried to link them to an imagined past to make them "authentic" in a risingly scientific age, but the connections are horseshit.  Most of those stories are distinctly "modern."

Well, as modern as Poe's stories, most of which are conveniently set in a Europe of an indeterminate age when people dressed in what is now costume and ran around in castles and buildings that look more like something from a Disney themepark than reality.  And Poe was writing those in the mid-19th century, in America. Again, the connection to an imagined past gave the stories the verisimilitude they required.

So most of our Hallowe'en is a matter of memory and conjecture, and the stories we tell ourselves.  But it isn't rooted in some "truth" we destroyed with our "enlightenment" or our "progress."  As with most things, our "truth" about these matters is what we say it is.

All Saint's Day, per New Advent, started in...well, here, let me just give you the whole magilla:

In the early days the Christians were accustomed to solemnize the anniversary of a martyr's death for Christ at the place of martyrdom. In the fourth century, neighbouring dioceses began to interchange feasts, to transfer relics, to divide them, and to join in a common feast; as is shown by the invitation of St. Basil of Caesarea (379) to the bishops of the province of Pontus. Frequently groups of martyrs suffered on the same day, which naturally led to a joint commemoration. In the persecution of Diocletian the number of martyrs became so great that a separate day could not be assigned to each. But the Church, feeling that every martyr should be venerated, appointed a common day for all. The first trace of this we find in Antioch on the Sunday after Pentecost. We also find mention of a common day in a sermon of St. Ephrem the Syrian (373), and in the 74th homily of St. John Chrysostom (407). At first only martyrs and St. John the Baptist were honoured by a special day. Other saints were added gradually, and increased in number when a regular process of canonization was established; still, as early as 411 there is in the Chaldean Calendar a "Commemoratio Confessorum" for the Friday after Easter. In the West Boniface IV, 13 May, 609, or 610, consecrated the Pantheon in Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs, ordering an anniversary. Gregory III (731-741) consecrated a chapel in the Basilica of St. Peter to all the saints and fixed the anniversary for 1 November. A basilica of the Apostles already existed in Rome, and its dedication was annually remembered on 1 May. Gregory IV (827-844) extended the celebration on 1 November to the entire Church. The vigil seems to have been held as early as the feast itself. The octave was added by Sixtus IV (1471-84).

So, mid 9th century, it got set as a date on the Church's calendar.  That led, later, to All Soul's on November 2.  The connections to Ireland, especially jack o'lanterns (turnips in Ireland, only after a long period exclusively pumpkins, which are as American as corn and tobacco), didn't really come until the 19th century.  Attempted connections between the Irish Samhain and All Saint's are all pretty much retrojection, especially as an attempt to connect Hallowe'en to Irish practices it supposedly overtook.    Gregory was a long way from Ireland in the 9th century and Christianity only reached the island in that century.  It's a pretty small tail wagging a pretty large dog to imagine Gregory picked the date for the entire church just to appeal to an Irish pagan festival.

The vigil, by the way, that "seems to have been held as early as the feast itself," is Hallowe'en.  That vigil appears in the literature as early as Shakespeare, where the practices of the Roman church were slowly being turned Anglican; but that's another story.  Curiously, most of the literature on Hallowe'en begins in the late 18th century, with Robert Burns in Scotland.  It continues in the early 19th century with Walter Scott.  It jumps the pond to Washington Irving's story of Ichabod Crane, where Disney (?; or someone before them) transforms the pumpkin into a jack o' lantern, which makes it a Hallowe'en story.  And then we get Poe.  The iconic black cat of Hallowe'en decorations arguably stems from Poe's story of the same name.  By Poe's time, of course, especially in Puritan tinctured America, the holiday has nothing to do with the Roman Catholic vigil.

Interestingly, the Aztecs and Mayans (and even lesser known groups in Mexico) had festivals honoring the return of the dead.  I can't say for sure the dates of the observances didn't shift after Christians changed the culture, but George Frazer found the Irish expecting the return of the dead around the end of October, which makes sense as people left the fields (farmers first, herdsman as it got too cold finally for the herds) and went indoors to survive the winter.  Thinking of those lost is a likelier custom as winter sets in, especially in Europe.  It seems to be have been as true in tropical Mexico, where the current Dias de los Muertos has very distinct roots in the culture of Mexico.  Many of the practices of the days extend into pre-colombian times, including the idea that the children who have departed return on November 1, the adults on November 2.  Did they adopt the Catholic dates?  Maybe.  It is certainly a festival that is far more "pagan" than it is "Christian."  Not that there's anything wrong with that!

I noted one year there's still no concerted "War on Hallowe'en," even this year when we're told Fauci and Biden are going to cancel Xmas because large crowds gathering (don't all the kids go to Hallowe'en parties now?  To say nothing of the adults.) and shipping delays in getting the products of cheap labor delivered to us in mass quantities (I've read the "other" problem with product delays to shelves is that we WANT so much stuff, supply can't keep up.  But that makes us responsible, and we can't have that!).  Apparently all Hallowe'en candy is Made In America (except for the Mexican stuff I see at my grocery store regularly; not to mention British chocolates and German Gummy Bears), so Hallowe'en is safe.  I guess.

I have lamented the changing face of Hallowe'en. (Pro tip:  when you can link to posts that are over 15 years old, you've been at this too long.)  I have layered Hallowe'en into the more important rituals/holy days of our modern American calendar.   I still think some reasonable connections can be made there.  I'm going to try to keep that in mind as we move toward Advent.  (Is Hallowe'en the gateway to Advent?  Or just to All Saint's, which prepares us for the liturgical year's end?  I've commented on the "razor blades in apples" stories, though I think the reference there (to a Salon article, of all things) is less reliable than other information I have which provides a more specific date to the origin of all those stories.

I am no reliably informed that one of the earliest full mentions of Hallowe'en and its attendant celebrations is the poem by Robert Burns that I've posted before on October 31.  I'll continue that tradition this year.  Consider this just prelude, as Hallowe'en itself is prelude to All Saint's which, I would argue, is prelude to the end of Pentecost (the season of, I mean), and in that way preparation, itself, for Advent.  Which is preparation, too.  But there I go, getting ahead of myself again.

Mostly, Hallowe'en is for fun.

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