By Tom Cardella
Halloween arrives next Tuesday. According to Wikipedia, Halloween has its origins in the 10th century Gaelic Samhain harvest festival. I’m guessing “Samhain” referred to Sam Hain, a prominent Scotsman who was thought to have originated the wearing of kilts. Unfortunately, Mr. Hain was arrested for public exposure while sitting on a bar stool in a small town named Butterscotch. Apparently, his kilt rode up a little too high when he was seated. Whether Sam Hain’s visible lack of modesty that fateful afternoon was deliberate, has been a subject of much conjecture through the years. Sam Hain , who had done irreparable damage to his neck because he’d jerked his head around every time someone near him said, “Same here,” died in a Scottish prison after finishing a hearty last meal of Finnan and haddie.
There is much debate today about whether Christians should celebrate Halloween. Wikipedia notes that some Christians co-opted Halloween. They even attended church services to observe the holiday. We do not know whether they attended in costume. How did the practice of kids dressing as Jason in FRIDAY THE 13th get started? It all began in Canada where many discarded hockey masks always seem to be strewn about. Christians abstained from meat during Halloween, instead eating vegetarian foods such as apples, potato pancakes, and soul cakes. My Jewish friends expressed surprise that their beloved potato pancakes (latkes) had Christian origins. They assured themselves, however, that Christians did not use genuine sour cream. I will leave it to others more qualified to speculate on the origin of “soul cakes.”
Even in early times, the observance of Halloween included playing games an activity that challenges the stereotype of Scots being dour. Games such as apple bobbing and “playing pranks” (Wikipedia’s term) were most prominent. It must be said that bobbing for apples is no longer as popular as it once was, mostly being confined to boring costume parties held by your Aunt Sally. “Pranks” are played on the night before Halloween, known as “Mischief Night.” Those “pranks” include tossing eggs, keying cars, and, years ago, according to my father, placing bags of urine above the front doors of disliked neighbors so that these cranky folks would get unwelcome showers when they answered their doors. Note to Wikipedia — I believe a stronger word than “prank” is in order here.
Carving pumpkins to look like your ugliest relative also became a tradition. These modified pumpkins — called “Jack-O-Lanterns” — were usually placed in a street-facing window in the home. Some people still observe this practice today, although the term Jack-O-Lantern has fallen into disuse. Much like the earlier story about the origins of Samhair, I think it likely that the practice of carving pumpkins was named after a young Scot by the name of Jack Lantern (the “O” again being added over the years because of the mistaken impression about the spelling of Scottish names). Young Mr. Lantern was reputed to be a dashing fellow, in fact, it’s rumored that Mel Gibson is planning to portray him in a sequel to BRAVEHEART.
Some mention should be made about the prominent role that pumpkin spice plays today in the observance of Halloween in America. It is impossible to buy anything during this October — from pizzelles to body butter — that does not taste or smell like pumpkin spice. If you are unfortunate enough to be allergic to pumpkin spice, you should a) travel out of the country during each October and b) never listen to a song by the Spice Girls. I wish this reporter could explain the origin of our increasing fixation on all things Pumpkin Spice. But unlike most disasters that have befallen America, this tradition PREdates the presidency of Donald Trump.
If you live within the circulation area of this newspaper, you will no doubt have discovered our practice of NOT observing Halloween on October 31st, the date the rest of America celebrates the holiday. In fact, around here, the trick or treating by our children is celebrated on any date in October, BUT the 31st. Neighborhood councils often meet in secrecy and agree on a date that is known only within that neighborhood. Most folks agree the floating dates for Halloween are necessary to protect the children. A small group of rabble rousers thinks that this strange practice may have something to do with ensuring that our children never come into contact with all the illegal aliens wandering through our neighborhoods, begging for treats while dressed as Pancho Villa.
As it does with everything else in American life today, politics has cast its ugly shadow on Halloween. Some folks refuse to participate in handing out treats to kids, a refusal endorsed by the libertarian wing of the Republican Party. Libertarians believe that handing out treats only teaches impressionable young children to expect government handouts in later life. Democrats, on the other hand, while endorsing handing out treats, recommend replacing candy with kale to promote good health.
President Trump insists that we greet each other by saying “Happy Halloween” instead of “Trick or Treat’, a greeting he says is disrespectful to the nation’s ideals. He claims that the term “trick or treat” began during the Obama Administration. Presidential spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed yesterday at her daily press conference that Hillary Clinton’s e-mails often mentioned the phrase “trick or treat” during October while she was Secretary of State.