Why We Need Halloween This Year
We’re already eating candy and wearing masks, so why Halloween?
It’s the weirdest holiday we celebrate in the U.S., and hasn’t this year been weird enough? Our lives have been reconfigured in ways we couldn’t have imagined back when we were taking down last year’s Christmas lights. Add the pandemic to a host of natural disasters and a looming election in which the suspense might literally be killing us, and 2020 is already a living horror story.
So is this really a time when we want to revisit an occasion with murky origins steeped in 2,000 year-old Druidic mysteries? The ancient Celtic festival of Samhain established the basics: with winter approaching and the hours of sunlight fading, the Druids figured that the veil separating the dead from the living reached its thinnest point, so attention must be paid.
The bad news was, returning ghosts had a fondness for spoiling crops and making trouble. The good news? According to the Celts, the thinning-veil situation made excellent conditions for fortune telling. On the night of Samhain (it’s pronounced nothing like it’s spelled, and let’s assume it was October 31, but who really knows), Druids built huge bonfires and everybody dressed up in costumes. Why that helped with the ghost situation is unclear, but people got into it just like they do today. With no Halloween Spirit stores or Amazon available, the cosplay tended toward animal skins and skulls rather than sexy vampiresses or rubber masks resembling celebrities. Since candy was not really a Celtic thing, everybody stood around in the bonfire-light, wearing their hides and animal heads, trying to tell each other’s fortunes.
Something like political pollsters right about now, come to think of it. But I digress.
With the Roman conquest of Celtic territory, followed by the rise of the Church, Halloween underwent a certain amount of reinvention while retaining the costumes and ghosts. The Romans incorporated their day to honor the dead plus the autumn harvest celebration in honor of the goddess Pomona, whose symbol was an apple. That explains why we bob for apples, or did until recent years, when we finally realized it’s a…