"Strange false faces, costumes, too/ Let's go out and all say Boo!/ I'm so scary and so are you!"
There we go...Trick or treat! Happy Halloween, everyone!
Ah, it's going to be Halloween. That means some, if not most, houses are decorated with seasonal flags, carved pumpkins and jack-o-lanterns. It also means children have already selected or are ready with their Halloween costumes.
I imagine there will be kids in their Batman or little princess attire. Some will be dressed up in just casual clothes with their plastic or canvas bags on hand, hopeful for an assortment of sweets or goodies. Likewise, there will be those older kids dressed as ugly, scary beasts, vampire-like creatures or witches.
The kids, accompanied or escorted by their parents, will be going door to door around the neighborhood, greeting the homeowners with a shout of "Trick or treat!" while the latter have prepared some goodies, candies, chocolates and other sweet treats to give them away.
In my research, the tradition of observing or celebrating Halloween originally came to North America from Ireland more than a century ago...
When families from the Old World made their way to a new home in America, they brought many of their customs with them.
The very name of Halloween invites superstition and mysticism, perhaps beginning with the Druids, centuries ago. the Druids began their New Year on November 1, and they lighted fires in honor of the sun god.
The people of Great Britain continued these beliefs, and some of these mystical practices survive even today.
In Ireland, it is believed that a man named Jack was so stingy that he was not allowed to enter heaven; he was also barred from hell because he had played too many tricks on the devil. poor jack was made to walk the earth carrying his lantern until Judgement day.
Since the days of the Romans and Egyptians, people have believed in witches. Even in the early years of our country, some women were thought to be witches and were burned at the stake.
People also believed that the future could be predicted on Halloween. For example, here's a popular tradition in Ireland: A supper was prepared of chopped onions, parsnips, and mashed potatoes. Into this concoction was stirred a thimble, a coin, and a ring. It was believed that the person who was served the thimble would never marry, the receiver of the coin would have great wealth, and the ring meant that the fortunate person who found it in his serving would marry within a year.
Children in Scotland created jack-o-lanterns from large turnips, lit by a candle placed inside.
In England, there was a belief that if a young girl peeled an apple, pared in one piece, swung it around her head three times, and let it drop to the floor, the peeling would shape the initial of her sweetheart.
The custom of children going door-to-door asking for sweets goes back to the seventeenth century, when Irish people asked for money so that a feast might be prepared. Today, some people collect money for UNICEF on Halloween.
Whatever the tradition, Halloween is fun, and sometimes, if it's meant to be---well, a little, anyway!
Well, today, Halloween, in my observation, has become millions or a billion dollar business, from Hollywood to the aisle of the nearest discount store. But kids of all ages still get a kick out of the cheap thrill of good ghost story, and they abound this time of year. It's just an indication that fear is part of life. It's normal to be afraid sometimes, and it's okay to have fun with that fear sometimes. Yes, we do celebrate, and capitalize on, the "ugly" and the "scary" part in/of us.
In the predominantly Catholic Philippines, where I originally came from, I don't remember having this Halloween event for children. Instead, we go clean the public cemeteries the last week of October. That is, en masse, we prepare our cemeteries to be visited or revisited once again. Gravesites or tombs are freshly painted to honor our beloved dead. We pay homage to our beloved departed on November 1, All Saints' Day, and on November 2, All Souls' Day. In addition to remembering our deceased loved ones, we also honor the Catholic Church's saints. We believe that these saints inspire us and guide us in our daily lives. Whenever (and wherever) we pray, we ask their intercession so that our prayers become meaningful, and hopeful wishes will be granted.
In my native country, we go to church cemeteries in late afternoon or early evening and lit candles at the tombs, offering our prayers and flowers. At times, Mass for the dead is said in the public cemetery by a town priest, who then blesses and sprinkles holy water on the gravesites.
The event or occasion is a great chance to see and mingle with friends and family members who may have been away from the community for months or years. In other parts of the country, people have this practice of offering food for the dead.
On the other hand, Philippine public and private schools, and colleges, are closed. It's like Memorial Day, Philippine-style. But, we do observe it not for one day only but on two consecutive days, November 1 and 2.
To all the Catholics around the world, my wishes for a Happy All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day! And to all kids in all of us, have a safe, fun Halloween!-chris a. quilpa, 31October2012.
*This piece of mine appeared in the Opinion page of Suffolk New-Herald on October 30, 2008.