The History of Halloween

Celtic society, like all early societies, was highly structured and organized, everyone knew their place. But to allow that order to be psychologically comfortable, the Celts knew that there had to be a time when order and structure were abolished, when chaos could reign. And Samhuinn, was such a time.

- Philip Carr-Gomm


And here we are, the final week of October, and I, being the Holiday enthusiast that I am, have decided to treat what few readers I have with something special to let them know that I appreciate it- for the first time ever, a third essay in one month. Don’t look at me like that, I don’t have any money left, I spent it all on Batman and pizza, just like you should’ve. And honestly, I couldn’t have picked a worse time to ‘reward’ you fools, two essays down and I’m running out of adjectives and descriptions for ‘scary.’ So just remember while you’re reading, should you come across any sentences that strike you as being a bit crazy, I’m doing my best, and pulling out all the stops- because this is MOTHERFUCKING HALLOWEEN. Shit’s sacred. It’s little kid’s excuse to dress up and get free candy, and adult’s excuse to see their female acquaintances in skimpy versions of regular clothes (I’m talking about you Sexy Janitor costume- those are just two words that just shouldn’t go together). But what really makes it so brilliant, is that it’s every man, woman, and child’s excuse to look Polite Society in the eyes, and simply say, “Fuck it, you know what, I think I WON’T wear a business suit to work, I’m gonna dress up as Batman and HR can just suck my chocolate covered milk duds if they think they can do anything about it.”
"Just be happy I didn't get the one with the nipples."
You know that nice kid in gym who helped you find your glasses after class? That’s the same kid who’ll be leaving a bag of flaming excrement on your front lawn come Halloween, with a smile on his beet-red face, and a vulgar joke oozing from his lips. And it’s all thanks to the Celts- allow me to explain. Back in about 5th century BC, Ireland was populated by an especially powerful tribe-like pseudo-society called the Celts. You may have heard about them because, while they certainly weren’t the most popular of early civilizations, they were definitely the most beloved, because while civs like Egypt and Greece and others were making mythical creatures that wanted devour your soul, and turn you to stone, and basically kick the living shit out of you just for being mortal, the Celts were inventing MAGIC. It was the Celts who thought up fantastical creatures like faeries, elves, trolls, as well as so many other fascinating symbols and beings that are still incredibly relevant today. How relevant? Just look at any movie, or book, or video-game that has to do with fantasy, because you’ll basically be getting a straight-up first-hand experience of ancient Celtic culture.
A level 47 mage-class with his impoverished family.
And somehow, the Celts managed to take these amazing beliefs, and form it into a religion that could help dictate their lives, forming a rather simple society operated by farmers, and led by druids, men who claimed to be able to understand the natural forces of the world, and could give the people advice on things like medicine (dirt, grass, blood, or goat shit, pick your poison), relationship counseling (man > woman), and most important, agriculture. The Celts ran their rudimentary calendars around the harvest, dividing the years at the end of summer (the end of the harvest season), and the beginning of winter (the beginning of the sit-in-your-hut-trying-not-to-die-of-frozen-nutsack-syndrome season). On the Roman Catholic calendar, this time was the last day of October, and the first day of November, and was a VERY special time for the Celts. See, they noticed that it was kind of funny how the world worked like that, how you could go from a season full of life, growth, and abundance, to a season more dead and barren than the sex life of your average redditor (I could probably get them to read my essays if they would just stop looking at pictures of cats in silly clothes every five goddamn seconds). Curious, they brought it up to their druids, who came back with the perfect explanation- Druids: “Just don’t think about it.” People: “But what about-” Druids: “HEY! LET’S HAVE A PARTY! RIGHT NOW! EVERYBODY’S INVITED! FREE CAKE!” People: “Wha- oh, uh, o-okay then! Cool! I guess we can just talk about this later then…” I mean that’s probs how it went down. Maybe. Either way, what was born that day was (and is) one of the greatest holidays to be celebrated EVER. The whole thing was called Samhain (pronounced SOW-AN, but have fun reminding yourself that in your head every time you read it as sam-hain), a day-long period when it was believed that the world of the living and the dead crossed over, and whatever moral rules applied on any other day, went right out the window with whatever fucks you possibly had to give any other time of the year.
Huge bonfires were lit and people danced around them having fun, playing with apples, oh and having random, inappropriate sex with their friends and neighbors, all of which presented a bit of a problem, specifically, all the annoying dead people walking around. You see, besides being an awesome care-free day of not giving a shit, Sanhaim was also the day when the dead were supposed to interact with the world of the living, and if you just woke up from a long dirt nap to find a massive party going down, don’t you think you’d like to get your crunk on with all your widowed loved ones? The druids had apparently thought of that one though, and instructed people to light fires and torches all around, to keep the dead away, and to wear costumes and masks to keep the dead from recognizing them. It was like if the nerds tried to go to the popular kid’s party, only to show up at the door and have that one jocky douche-bag stand in their way and tell them that they weren’t invited.
"Sorry bro. The Orgy Party's full."

This went on for another couple of hundreds of years or so, with Samhain being adopted by the Romans, who made a few changes to it, like dressing up as gods of the underworld who represented early versions of monsters we use today, like witches, and vampires. The Romans also brought some troubles to Samhain though, like, for example, trying to fucking kill it off. You see, over time, Roman Catholicism became the dominant religion in Ireland, the druids and the nature-magic of the Celtic age replaced with the priests and God worshiping of the new age, those creative Celts we have so much to thank for, slowly growing into the drunken Irishmen we’ve come to know and love today. However, many of the Celtic customs still remained, including the language, the architecture, and the holidays, especially Samhain, which was still as wild and crazy as the day it started, and even though it left many women spending their winters trying to track down their baby daddies (but really, even if proper condoms had been invented back then, do you actually think they would have used them), Samhain was beloved by all those who happened to like fun- which means that it pissed the Catholics off. No disrespect to my theist readers, whoever you may be, but please recognize the fact that much of the history of the Catholic Church boils down to political subterfuge, and frequent dick-measuring contests (I’m not really sure who they’re trying to impress though, it’s not like their five year old boy-friends have enough experience to judge [aaand it’s official, if there IS a God, then I’m going to Hell]). So when they heard of a yearly tradition where the only rule was ‘fun,’ they set off in their pope-mobiles to shut that party off like a crew of grouchy 80’s comedy movie cops. Basically, they made November 2nd the new date of their toootally original holiday called All Souls Day, or All-Hallows Day. The celebration consisted of parades and bonfires, with people dressing up as demons and angels, and despite it’s more restrictive rules, it was a lot like that other holiday, what was it called again? Sockan? Softan?
Hmmm... It had something to do with an enourmous orgy...
Well, while the church will never admit it, it is theorized (and generally accepted) that this was a pretty obvious attempt to overshadow, and hopefully eliminate good ‘ol Samhain- an attempt that, if it is true, blew up right in their face. Because for some odd reason, the church didn’t consider the possibility that placing their celebration holiday the day after the biggest party of the year, and then expecting people to get off their hung-over asses to show up, is like taking a group of people, putting blindfolds on them, and then asking them to read you the bible. So, instead of being buried, Samhain simply adopted a new name, ‘All Hollows Eve,’ which over time, became the name we all recognize today- HALLOWEEN. Time continued to progress, many, many decades passed, with Halloween becoming even more interesting and exciting for each generation, while at the same time calming down a bit, inviting in more people at a time, like younger children, who could bob for apples with their friends, and dress in costumes, and be allowed to join into the general festivities of the party, without having to worry about accidentally becoming audience to their mom, their barber, and several other people they’d never seen before going at it like they were playing naked twister, before drunkenly dancing around a house sized bonfire. The most progressive changes to Halloween actually happened during its migration to UHMERICA, with colonists sometimes celebrating the holiday by gathering together and telling ghost stories, dancing, singing, and lighting candles as was customary, in order to ward off the dead. Many myths surround the candle lighting, as, back then, the tradition was to carve out turnips, which were in abundance in Ireland, stick a candle in there, and then light it and use it as a little, nasty-tasting lantern.
I mean there are worse alternative of course.
 Honestly, the closest thing you have to sense when it comes to an explanation for that is an old Irish tale about some guy name Jack, who one day met the devil, and clearly confusing the devil with a bear of some sort, climbed up a tree. The Devil, Lord incarnate of all that is evil, vile, and horrible in this world according to the Christian belief, who resides over Hell, and is so powerful that it was predicted that He would one day battle God himself, some how managed to climb up a tree after Jack. Until Jack jumped out of the tree, and the Devil, Ultimate Prince of Darkness, had to ask Jack to help him, because he was stuck in a fucking tree. Jack agreed, under the condition that the Devil would back the fuck off for the rest of Jack’s life, and leave him alone. The Devil had no choice (he couldn’t exactly call his infinite legion of demon warriors who obey his every word to help him), and so Jack got to derp around for many more years before he finally kicked the bucket. But when he went up to the pearly white gates, he was denied entrance for being an overall dick-hole his whole life. Pissed, Jack went down to hell, but found the door locked, because the King of Darkness, the Torturer of the Damned Eternal, didn’t want Jack to come in, on account of the fact that he was a meanie.
I'm gonna tell God on you!
After leaving what can only be described as a clearly mature, and logical argument, Jack kind of just had to wander around, in-between the world the living and the dead for a while, using a turnip and candle he found as a lantern to light his way. In America, pumpkins were used instead, and that story is apparently the reason they’re called Jack O Lanterns. But don’t think the colonists were just sitting around playing with candles and being all nice and friendly-like. Even back then, people were still using Halloween as an excuse to raise hell, and make mischief and whatnot. Mind you that this is during colonial times, so pranks like Toilet Papering the neighbor’s yard were out of the question, mostly because when it comes to toilet paper, like the condom, while it hadn’t been invented, I don’t really believe they would have used it for its intended purpose anyway. Around the middle of the 19th century, during the mass Irish migration due to the potato famine, Halloween saw a second coming in America, going from a small celebration some farmers here and there enjoyed, to a full on mass Holiday, so much so, that by the beginning of the 20th century, communities and towns all over the country realized that if they didn’t try and set some guidelines for Halloween, people were gonna burn the whole damn nation to the ground.
The Great Haunted House Mishap of 1902
Newspapers everywhere started publishing articles pushed forward by community leaders, articles that were meant to try and get people to see Halloween in a more family friendly light, without all the mischief making, and ghosts, and witchcraft and stuff. While they did succeed in making Halloween more family friendly, they didn’t exactly neuter the Holiday, as they also tried to let the celebration become more about getting together with your friends and neighbors, i.e. waiting until the kids were gone, and then throwing crazy-ass parties that would make their ancestors smile (before they froze to death or whatever people did for fun back then). But let’s not forget exactly what allowed Halloween to become so family friendly- when they were trying to re-work Halloween’s image, many towns would focus on the new tradition that had been becoming popular, of taking kids door to door, costumed, and begging for food or money. Only what they didn’t realize was the popular saying that had come along with the tradition, where after someone answered the random child’s knock to the door, the little tyke would say in a calm voice, “Trick or Treat,” which basically was short for, “You sir have made the gravest of mistakes, simply by opening your own door. Now that I know you are present in the domain, I will offer you a choice- you respond positively to my demands for food, and whatever money you can spare, or deny me what I ask, whereupon I will commence making your life a living hell. I may not be of a physical stature capable of fighting you, sir, but I will have you know that on this Holiday which I am currently celebrating, I no longer feel the moral boundaries that contain me for the other 364 days of the year, and would contain me in this very situation. For such reason, I can torture you in all ways mentally, destroying your property, setting up simple yet time-consuming puzzles and traps, which will inconvenience you at first, but over time, will slowly drive you to the brink of insanity, with no inkling of remorse on my part. All of this will come to pass, and more, unless you give me, and whoever else may be accompanying me this evening, some goddamn apples, RIGHT NOW.” And that’s where trick or treating comes from. Children using the threat of fucking up peoples homes to extort from them whatever they wanted. Like adorable thugs.
Creepy thugs, or possible trick or treaters?
Still, regardless of where it’s come, how it’s changed, what was true, and always will be true is that Halloween, at its heart, is more than the sum of its parts. It is more than getting to play pranks; it is more than getting to pretend you’re something fantastical, even if only for a night; Halloween is the one night which has served as a reprieve from the prison of society. We stay in the prison by choice, despising it for the stress, indignation, and the constant stifling it requires, but understanding that society also serves the purpose of keeping the order necessary for us to work, at least somewhat peacefully, together. But on Halloween, we no longer have to worry about social status, about our constant battles of belief, about the problems we have to handle everyday; we no longer have to worry about reason. I know it sounds incredibly corny, but Halloween will always be my personal favorite Holiday, because on Halloween, whatever age you are, whether you’re going out trick or treating for the first time, or you’re going out in costume to spend your night partying with friends (and getting EX-tremely drunk), you can truly allow yourself to get wrapped up in the incomparable feeling of unlimited possibility. Before I bid you adieu, I’d like to do something I haven’t done before, and dedicate this essay to a group of very special people: The Westboro Baptist Church. The single most dedicated group of trolls I have ever seen. Happy Halloween everybody.
And a very Happy Halloween from the WBC.

No comments:

Post a Comment