Tag Archives: Holidays

To summon the spirits of the season

Make of it what you will, I love Halloween.  This post with a past may offer some explanation – … https://www.tcdailyplanet.net/halloween-did-irish-think-it-or-not-and-does-it-matter   Mental Floss offers a more erudite and global take on the history and hoaxes of All Hallow’s Eve.  http://mentalfloss.com/section/weird

Though Halloween is a few days in the future, it’s not a moment too soon to prepare both the mind and the décor.  If you start this weekend, you might be First in the Neighborhood/Apartment/Office this year.  Understand these are options, not suggestions, a way to get you to the general digital vicinity:

As is the custom of the day, one should start with statistics and other essential facts:  https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2011/10/30/halloween-stats-tricks-treats-and-4-1-million-costumed-kids/  Granted, this information has not been updated for a few years, alternative facts matter.

If Halloween conjures your culinary genius you might this will expand your plate of possibilities:


If you’re visually inspired, take a long gaze here:


If the sounds of the season set the mood for you, check out these options:



If you engage in what’s happening in other cultures, you appreciate that the universality of this Chinese custom is clearly antithetical to contemporary American ethos: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/china-ghost-festival-burning-money

Hot off the presses:  —  From Mental Floss scenes from “the charming English fishing village that inspired Dracula” and told “the spookiest ghost stories from all 50 states.” And Bustle noted that Frankenstein author Mary Shelley “was Goth before it was cool, and these 15 surprising facts prove it.”



All Hallow’s Eve – We have the Irish to thank!

A few years back I tried to get in the spirit of Halloween;  my expressed goal was to escape the materialization of what was once an honored custom.  My strategy was to learn about the traditions that shape the ways we celebrate a day that must have had a life before the advent of flimsy (if fire repellent) costumes and nutritious (if yucky) candy. 

When I asked my young niece, then living in Dublin, if they celebrated Halloween in Ireland, she gently advised me that the Irish “thought it up.”  Her terse rebuttal “changed my life.”  Rather than fret about the excesses of Halloween, specifically the $75.03 per capita Americans will spend on Halloweeniana this year, I vowed to dig into the roots of the ancient myths and customs.

It seems the Irish do have a claim on the ancient Celtic customs which once marked the change of the seasons.  After the harvest, when the light of summer gave way to the dark of winter, Samhain was the time to gather the souls of the year’s dead.  Samhain was also the time for the autumn cleanup and battening down for the winter.  Among other things this meant settling debts, making peace with one’s enemy and extinguishing all fires – thus the pitch darkness of All Hallow’s Eve.  All Hallow’s Eve was a mystical time when the thin spaces between mortal world and the netherworld faded, a time when the borders were open and the spirits flowed unencumbered.

Having covered the broad strokes in that earlier post, I’ve moved on to explore the lesser known tales.  My favorite is Queen Maeve of Connacht.  Though Maeve’s association with Halloween may seem trivial there is a link:    Early proponent of women’s equality that she was Maeve was determined to match the possessions of her husband Aillel.  On Sanhaim she staged what became known as the Cattle Raid of Cooley to capture a prize bull of Ulster that would match her husband’s bull.  There she encountered the bold Cu Chulainn, defender of the accursed Ulster. It’s a long amf bloody tale, appropriate to the season. [Note:  English majors may know Maeve from William Butler Yeats’ The Old Age of Queen Maeve (http://www.online-literature.com/frost/792/]

Maeve’s husband Ailill appears in another Celtic tale involving Samhain. In this one Nera, a hero from Connaught, is the only one brave enough to face the King’s challenge to loose a dead man from the gallows by tying a twig around his ankle.  On Samhain night the dead man comes to and asks for a cup of water. Nera reigns triumphant. There’s more about burning royal buildings and a fairy who tells Nera that it’s all a dream after which  Nera may or may not have been imprisoned by fairies until the following Samhain,,,

In a word, strange things happen on All Hallow’s Eve.

There’s fun stuff, too. 

Carving pumpkins dates back to 8th Century Celtic lore and to an Irish blacksmith named Jack who colluded with the Devil and was denied entry to heaven.  When Jack was condemned to wander the earth he made a deal with the Devil for some light.  He was given a burning coal which he placed inside a turnip that he had gouged out.  Fearing the wandering blacksmith, Irishmen placed lighted turnips in their windows to scare him away.  Somehow the turnips morphed into pumpkins in the New World.

Halloween costumes can also be traced to Celtic roots.  On Samhain, when the temporal and eternal worlds came together, the Celtic Druids would dress in elaborate costumes to disguise themselves as spirits and devils.  Their hope was that they would avoid being carried away at the end of the night.

There’s more – faeries, known as pookas, who appear as sleek horses and thrive on mischief, bonfires (fires of bones), dunking for apples, even blind dates all have roots in Celtic mythology.  When it comes to Halloween customs, the Irish definitely had a hand in “making it up”.

Then along came the missionaries, bent on converting the Celts to Christianity.  Out went the Druids and the “pagan” rituals, including Samhain.  By the 7th Century AD Pope Gregory determined that the better part of valor was to adapt the pagan customs.  The Gregorian calendar of today is just one example of transforming pagan customs and beliefs into Christian feasts and rituals. Thus Halloween evolved as a sort of compilation of pagan and Christian customs, with Druids keeping apace as All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2) made their appearance on the Gregorian calendar.

If you’re really into Halloween lore, check out Jack Santino’s classic piece, “The Fantasy and Folklore of All Hallows,” spirited from The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.  http://www.loc.gov/folklife/halloween.html

Once again this Halloween I plan to evoke the real spirit of All Hallows Eve by keeping this focus on the mythology – the glorious gruesome Celtic roots of the rituals. SpongeBob Square Pants’ plastic bucket will be a cache of precious gold, Angry Birds seem as aggravated devils in disguise, that fairy princess could be Maeve herself.  Then, when the doorbell stops ringing, I’ll listen for the spirits who will inevitably hover just across the thin divide.  It worked for the Celts!

Halloween Stats – Tricks, Treats and 4.1 Million Costumed Kids

In the midst of all of the anti-Washington sentiments that pour forth from the pundits and seem to be lapped up by the public, it’s good to see that the information wheels of our federal government continue to gather, interpret and ultimately spew forth immense quantities of usually essentially, sometimes just plain fun, information.

The Census Bureau, which continues to process the inestimable data collected in the 2010 Census, takes time now to share some fun facts about Halloween.

Did you know?

Some 41 million children age 5-14 hit the Trick or Treat trail in 2010 – Add to this number the 0-4 and 15+ generations who seemed be part of the crowd on my front steps particularly before and after “rush hour.”  (U.S. Census Bureau)

The T or T crowd has their pick of some 116.7 occupied housing units.  I have observed of late that the sophisticates – and their parents – tend to have checklists of criteria by which they judge the generous spirit of the homeowners so there are no disappointing treats. (U.S. Census Bureau)

1.1 billion pounds of pumpkins brighten the Halloween festivities;  a small fraction even turn up in pies, puddings, soups and cookies.  Illinois produces an estimated 427 million pounds of the gourd.  California, New York and Ohio are also major pumpkin producing states.  (U.S. Department of Agriculture

1,177 U.S. manufacturing establishments produce chocolate and cocoa products and employ 34, 252 people.  California leads the nation with 135 followed by Pennsylvania with 111 (including Hershey which probably gives PA a leg up in the chocolate marathon)

409 U.S. establishments manufacture non-chocolate confectionary products; they employ 16,974 people.  Again, California leads the sugary pack.  (Note: My informed-by- consumption opinion is that some of those chocolate/cocoa manufacturers should be reclassified with this group)

24.7 pounds per capita is the rate of Americans’ candy consumption – I assume that’s an annual figure, in which case I probably should stop now…..

Where to spend the day:

The Bureau thoughtfully suggests some places around the country “that may put you in the Halloween mood.”  Consider these possibilities, or add your personal favorite:

  • Transylvania County, NC
  • Tombstone, AZ
  • Pumpkin Center, NC
  • Cape Fear, NC
  • Skull Creek, NE

You may want to consider including or substituting these factoids with the M&Ms and Twix – the digital data dump is pre-paid by the public, readily accessible, and clearly better than sugar for those high spirited young beggars who are already on a sugar high – or those teens who show up late after you’ve run out of candy and are desperate to give them something just to keep them at bay.

Or then again you may want to stick with the safer tradition and avoid the consequences of withholding treats.  Even the President expressed his concern that the White House will be egged if Michelle insists on handing out veggies.