It's hard to remember that this holiday is based on the ancient Celtic celebration of Samhain. Druids, or Celtic priests to us modern folk, would build huge bonfires for sacrifices (both plant and animal) in an attempt to appease the deities and keep the peace on the one night of the year when the line between the living world and spiritual world blurs and ghosts are free to return and be as mischievous or malevolent as they pleased. Samhain (pronounced "sow-in") was also a New Year's celebration marking the end of harvest and beginning of winter, a season associated with the dead...for obvious reasons. When the Romans gained power over the region, they incorporated two of their festivals into the mix. Feralia and Pomona were celebrated back to back, with Pomona on the day of Samhain. Feralia was honoring the passing of the dead and Pomona acknowledged the goddess of fruit and trees. Pomona's trademark symbol was the apple, and is considered the reason why we bob for the fruit at Halloween and harvest festivals.
Once in charge, the Christians had to have it their way. Pope Boniface IV designated the official All Saint's Day during the seventh century, hoping to replace the Feralia festivities with a Christian observance of the dead. In the language of the time it was called Alholowmesse or All Hallow's day. The day before, Samhain, was called All Hallow's Eve, eventually just Halloween.
Whether your background is Pagan, Wiccan, Christian or whatever, it's still one of the most entertaining holidays. As a child I lived for Halloween. I loved planning my costume and getting together with friends to go trick or treating. My favorite costume was one that my mother made for a school play when I was picked to be an indian princess. The next year we moved to a different city and I got to wear my indian princess costume again. I adored it, with it's fringed sleeves and hem and the colorful beading. But no matter what costume we wore, the routine was always the same: rush home from school, start getting ready and wait, wait, wait until dusk to go trick or treating. Afterward, my mom made us go through our candy to check for tainted items, razor blades, etc., but we never found any. We'd trade candy for our favorites and give the ones we didn't like to our parents.
As I've gotten older, I don't do the dress up thing as often but I still love to carve jack-o-lanterns, toasting the seeds in a spicy mix while putting the final touches on a scary face, circle of stars, cat with an arched back or whatever design I'd chosen that year. Austin throws a huge Halloween event on 6th Street for costumed adults to drunkenly celebrate at bar after bar after bar. The gay bars in town revel in the holiday, each one packed with outlandishly costumed clientele. You have to love the Carmen Miranda-clad drag queen flirting outrageously with a hard bodied man wearing only a circlet of ivy and a well placed fig leaf. And I always have a good time, whether wearing my Sister Mary Feelgood costume (nun habit with a thigh high slit and red fishnets paired with cha cha heels) or my Bitch costume (just me, add whore red lipstick and a full dose of attitude). Every year finds me just as excited as ever that the holiday has arrived.
What are your plans for Samhain? Do you have a favorite costume?
"Double, double, toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble."
Act 4, Scene 1, Macbeth