It may be that my mini-obsession with Halloween speaks to a need to explore the real roots of what has become a bit of a farce, coupled with franchisee costumes and the race to fill the biggest pillowcase with sugary loot. I think I miss the mystery, maybe even the tricks (like the cow deposited on the second floor of the high school.) In any event, I always repeat a 2011 blog that explores my fascination with the lore. https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2011/10/24/halloween-did-the-irish-think-it-up-or-not-and-does-it-matter/
Two years later I plumbed the depths again: https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2013/10/29/halloween/
This year I thought to take a more global perspective to explore the many of faces of All Hallows Eve in other cultures: One modern story I had not realized is that some Irish-Americans continue to preserve the custom of hiding a coin in a fruitcake. The one who receives the piece with the coin is rewarded with good luck for the rest of the year.
Today the Irish, originators of the custom, still decorate their houses with turnips, candles and jack-o-lanterns, a temptation of hooligans who hold true to the bonfire tradition.
Because my grandson is a first grader in Yinghua Academy, the nearby Chinese immersion school, I checked to learn about Chinese customs. I learned that in Hong Kong the Festival of the Hungry Ghosts was a feast on which the people gave gifts to the evil spirits so that they would be safe and comforted in their travels. The Hungry Ghost Festival was celebrated during the seventh month of the Chinese year. (http://www.chinahighlights.com/festivals/hungry-ghost-festival.htm)
The story of Japan’s efforts to adopt Halloween customs is an unfortunate tale. Modern Japanese will continue to honor their forebears in less destructive ways. (http://www.tofugu.com/2014/11/11/how-japan-made-halloween-their-own-then-ruined-it-for-everybody/)
In Germany people hide their knives so the evil spirits are not armed for violence.
My google search led me to a range of references, several of them that described a mix of customs. Lacking the knowledge to question the various authorities, I settled on this one project called “Pumpkin Patches and More” which seems a good overview of today’s Halloween options. It’s a good starting point to a broad range of options representing a mix of ethnic mores: http://www.pumpkinpatchesandmore.org/halloweenglobal.php
These are just some of the myriad ways that people honor our ancestors, mixed with a bit of scaring away the evil spirits with a flourish of spookiness. I still hold to my niece’s theory that “the Irish thought it up,” though I do love to add to the luster of Halloween by exploring others’ traditions.
Bottom line: The roots of All Hallow’s Eve and All Souls Day are planted deep in the human psyche. The customs reflect but do not shape what must be an innately human response to the change of seasons.
Fun to ponder as I examine bags of wrapped candy to assure the absence of peanuts and forbidden flavor enhancers – not an easy task for one untrained in contemporary food chemistry.