Monday evening, some strange creatures are apt to appear at your front door; scary witches and Frankensteins and green goblins. I suspect vampires will be especially popular. Then again, not all these weird beings will necessarily be frightful. There’ll surely be a few Spidermen and Captain Americas to take the demons to task and protect the fairy princesses.
Early in the evening, these hooligans will be rather small in stature – short, youthful and elf-like. They’ll probably be most plentiful in the immediate downtown area, running from store to store.
Later, after the dead of night and often well beyond the witching hour, a more adult variety of these creatures might stumble up your front steps. Indeed, in some cases they tend to congregate in certain homes and drink more alcohol than they’d normally consume. That’s particularly true of those in the downtown taverns. (Nothing is quite as shocking and humorous as an encounter with a drunk Superman.)
The origins of such costumed debauchery can be traced back thousands of years to pagan times and pagan festivals. The ancient Romans held an end-of-summer feast and drunken party that honored the dead. Celtic druids of ancient Ireland and the Scottish highlands also practiced an end-of-summer celebration that paid homage to the deceased, especially those departed souls being held in limbo, an afterlife realm that vaguely resembles purgatory. They carved turnips into lanterns, which were of some religious significance. (Around 1837, immigrants to North America starting carving pumpkins instead.)
Given such pagan roots, many evangelic types believe Halloween is completely incompatible with the Christian faith. The Vatican also felt this way in the past, but has mellowed its position in relatively recent times. Today, the church accepts the tradition, providing it only involves games and dress-up and not the active pursuit of the occult or black magic rites.
Of far more importance to Catholics is the day after Halloween, which is celebrated as All Saints Day. Nov. 1 commemorates those departed souls who have obtained the beatific vision and dwell in heaven.
When Cortes brought this church tradition to the Aztecs of Central America, the Indians weren’t quite sure what to make of it. They combined aspects of All Saints Day with some of their own customs from a festival for one of their goddesses. Over time, this fusion resulted in the Mexican celebration of the Day of the Dead (La Dia de los Muertos). It’s commemorated by nearly all Mexican Americans, is a major national holiday throughout Mexico and is also celebrated in Spain and Brazil. Surprisingly, there are similarly-themed festivals in parts of Asia and Africa, also on Nov. 1.
In our little corner of the planet, there’s an annual, candlelit homage to the departed in the old Krain Cemetery just before sunset. It’s a Catholic tradition brought here by Austrian immigrants more than 100 years ago. Like the Mexicans, descendants of the departed gather among the tombstones and leave gifts for the dead. There’s a Baby Ruth candy bar in front of that grave site. Over here, a toy locomotive. At another tombstone, there’s a glass ashtray with a cigarette resting in it, beside an open pack of Marlboros, which is full except, of course, for a single cigarette.
This peaceful, quiet and happy occasion is highly recommended as therapy if you’re still suffering headaches and mental gaps from the previous night.
Happy Halloween, everyone!