Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween: Ghosts, Bonfires, and ...

For centuries, Halloween celebrations 
have been devoted to a mixture of fun and fear. says that Halloween was based on the Celtic festival called Samhain,
during which people dressed in costumes and lit bonfires to scare off roaming spirits,
who were thought to come out on the night before the New Year (then November 1).

Read more about the ancient traditions of Halloween here:

The idea of roaming ghosts and goblins seems like fantasy to us now, 
but in those times, the fear of such creatures was very real.
There is a fascinating collection of writings called The Denham Tracts,
a collection of British folklore compiled by Michael A. Denham between 1846 and 1859,
later published by the Folklore Society (London) in 1895.
They are fascinating to read. 
From Denham's list, here is just a very brief number of spirits people once feared:
bloody bones, bonelesses, breaknecks, scrags, fetches, and kelpies; 
hell-wains, fire-drakes, clabbernappers, and galley trots;
 mawkins, corpse lights and gringes.

There are dozens more.
There is speculation that Tolkien
may have taken some of the names for his Hobbit series from the Denham Tracts
since hobbits and wraiths are among the list of spirits.

Today, Halloween spirits are more benign, even charming.
These little spirits appear around my neighbors' tree each Halloween and I love them:

In my neighborhood, the only ghouls, goblins, and ghosts are children in costume.
(At least, as far as we know.)
They are the ones that tromp through the twilight looking for candy.
And getting candy, preferably chocolate,
on Halloween night is a ritual that never gets old.

When I was a kid, my brothers and sisters and I couldn't wait for Halloween.
It wasn't the costumes or the parties that we anticipated so eagerly.
It was mainly the candy we got from the "trick-or-treating."
When their parents were still living, my folks would drive us ten miles
to their hometown and my mom would take us door-to-door to her relatives.
Usually they could all be counted on for chocolate Halloween candies,
or at least the chewy black-and-orange wrapped Mary Jane peanut butter kisses.
But not our great Aunt Rose.

We always dreaded going to Aunt Rose's
partly because my mom would linger there talking,
interrupting our candy grabbing momentum,
and partly because Aunt Rose only offered two treats:
an oatmeal cookie and an apple.
Normally, that wouldn't have been such a bad treat,
except that Aunt Rose always put the unwrapped oatmeal cookie into our bags first,
then tossed the heavy apple in on top of it
with the force of a medieval mace.
At the end of the night, we'd return home,
dump our candy loot to see what treasures we got,
and then devote considerable amounts of time
to brushing the crushed oatmeal cookie crumbles off of everything.

Tonight, little trick-or-treaters will don costumes
and roam through the darkness in search of candy.
Let's hope they don't run into any fantasms or hobgoblins or flay boggarts.
But just in case, I think I'll keep a couple of heavy apples handy.

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