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Halloween is an international holiday1 which occurs on the 31st day of October. In the past it has also been known as All Hallow's Eve, being the day before November 1st (All Saint's Day). The holiday evolved from pagan and early Catholic influences in the European continent, and was wondrously perverted and commercialized by americans.
Pagans call it Samhain, the final feast of the year after the harvests. This is when the world was believed to die, with the promise that it would be reborn next spring. Halloween has admittedly taken on some dark connotations over the centuries, but that's predominantly due to cultures that believe when we die, it's over. To those who see death more as a change and less as something to fear, Halloween can be a lot of fun.
The Scotch tradition claimed Halloween was a time when witches, devils, fairies and other imps of air and earth would celebrate. This would either scare average human beings, or tick them off for not being invited to the party. Some believed that those born on All Hallows' Eve were granted the gift of ''double sight,'' and had influence over spirits.2
Trick or Treat
For children at the turn of the millenium, Halloween is an opportunity to dress up in masks and elaborate costumes with ugly hair, bushy eyebrows, big smelly feet, and long dirty fingernails. Children then walk around their neighborhoods (with adult supervision of course), knock on doors and be greeted by people who pretend to be scared and fill the children's bags with chocolate candies, wax lips, and other goodies.
At least that used to be how things were on Halloween. Times have changed. As we approach the 21st century, Halloween appears to be a dying holiday. Due to some evil strangers in neighborhoods, stories of razor blades in apples and candies laced with hallucinogens caused many parents to think twice about allowing their children to go trick or treating. Alternatives have been to have costume parties at churches and houses of well-known friends, but it's just not the same.
Some people just ruin the fun for everyone. It's just as well, considering the same kinds of changes in our society, parents would probably stop giving that unhealthy candy to children, opting instead to fill their bags with condoms or genetically improved Frankenstein foods. It's a shame no one ever thought to drop entire boxes of girl scout cookies into those trick or treat bags.
How It All Began...
Halloween started as a Celtic pagan holiday, much like many holidays we now equate with Judeo-Christian elements. For most holidays, the Roman Catholic Church replaced the pagan elements with their own. Well, they were in charge during the Dark Ages, and felt entitled.
During the reign of the Roman Empire, Pomona Day was celebrated. Pomona was this legendary myth of a woman somehow related to the goddess Venus. Pomona was into gardening. She had many suitors but disregarded them. I'm not sure why the Roman's had a day set aside for her because she was a stick in the mud, except perhaps as another excuse to get drunk and not work, which was in the end why the Roman Empire fell. Every day was a holiday to them and they stopped getting around to working. I mean after you've conquered the entire known world, there's nowhere to go but down.
Meanwhile, the superstitious followers of the celtic traditions in what is now western Europe were concerned about their harvests in the autumn, and they also believed this was the time of the year when their sun god was captured by Samhain, who ruled the world of the dead. This, they believed, was why things got colder all the sudden, and November 1st was to them the start of a new year, the old one having been ended because Samhain was being a jerk.3
The evening before their new year, the Celts believed Samhain gathered all the dead together to party and give unprepared living people a hard time. Evil ghosts would take to inhabiting black cats and other animals like flies, snakes, and giant prawns.
This meant certain death for anyone still alive, so the druids and the leaders of the Celtic tribes came up with a plan. This plan was meant to convince the villagers that all the evil spirits were sufficiently scared away for the next several months until the sun god came back. It was also supposed to be a massive blowout party so people worried about such things as sun gods being captured by princes of darkness would forget their troubles and get exceedingly drunk.
So the druids and leaders of the Celtic tribes would start massive fires as the moon rose in the sky, offer sacrifices to the gods, tell everyone to dress up in ugly costumes that would scare off any evil spirits that happened by, drink a lot, and then the following morning they would give embers of the fires to the people of the village, who in turn went home to light their own fires. In this way, it was believed all the Celtic homes would be kept warm and protected from Samhain and his rowdy deadheads.
Eventually the romans invaded the celts, and their social cultures were intermingled. The Samhain festival and Pomona Day sorta got mixed up until no one knew what they were celebrating exactly. Still, the fires were warm and the alcohol was intoxicating so no one really cared.
After the Roman Empire fell, the Roman Catholic Church took over and began to celebrate The Solemnity of All Saints on November 1st, and therefore slated the night before that as All Hallows Eve, the evening before All Saints Day. So to Christians, Halloween is to All Saint's Day what Christmas Eve is to the birthday of their Saviour.
Notice that we're still celebrating dead people here. Catholicism just limited it to good dead people and said to hell with everyone else. Still, the actual celebrations of bonfires and drinking heavy and dressing up in silly costumes continued. Those who are really into partying never really care why they're partying unless it makes good small talk while you're mingling. The Christians were satisfied, and everyone else could get drunk and frighten each other with scary stories, and everyone lived happily ever after.
Jimi X has a great page about Scary Tales for Halloween you can read. Halloween is the ideal time for ghost stories and the like, especially at night around a campfire. Telling ghost stories at night around a campfire with family and friends is a fun way to enjoy the holiday. If you don't know any ghost stories yourself, Mad Anthony's Ghost is here to get you started. The infamous Chupacabra is another classic horror tale passed by word of mouth for generations.
Any time of the year is a good time of the year for horror films and B rated movies. Some recommended screamers by your fellow h2g2 field researchers include the following, and while you may not find them all scary, they're guaranteed to be fun and should help you get into the mood for this harrowing holiday:
- The Crow: City of Angels
- Mystery Science Theater 3000
- The Blair Witch Project
- Rocky Horror Picture Show
- The Mummy
Or you could sit around the house hoping to be invited to a costume party. Better yet: host one of your own! Invite everyone you know to your house around Halloween, and before you know it your house will be overrun with witches, gorillas, vampires, werewolves, fairies, and other things that go bump in the night4. You could go dressed as a nun with bloody hammers sticking out of your skull. If you're really close to somebody, you can get a real big turtleneck shirt and the two of you can dress up as siamese twins.
While not necessarily scary, reading comic books about green superheroes like The Incredible Hulk and Green Lantern might give you some ideas for costumes to those many costume parties you hope to be invited to. A highly recommended comic book series for getting into the Halloween spirit is the cancelled Sandman series from DC's Vertigo comics.
Perhaps the best kind of music to listen to this time of year is Harpsichord Music because it has that eerie and disturbing feel to it. Also, the sound of church bells are ominous and forboding. Then there's more conventional tunes like The Monster Mash and Michael Jackson's Thriller which are usually overplayed incessantly this time of the year by Morning Radio DeeJays.
It's enough to make your skin crawl.
There's never truly an end of things to do on Halloween. In the month of October, haunted houses suddenly appear more proliferant than the golden arches in many neighborhoods, sponsored by various charities who will scare you for dough. Though not a haunted house, I've been told that Madame Tussauds wax museum gives people chills all year round.
In the north american continent, many charities and other organizations set up fake haunted houses. For a fee, you go to some warehouse or other place with big signs saying ''Haunted House Over Here! Five bucks!''
The objective is to have a good time, which is rather strange since one is basically asking complete strangers to hide in a darkened warehouse or near condemned building and jump out in front of you while you relish the experience of the flight or flight instinct. It is possible this is the equivalent of a natural high for some, as being scared increases adrenaline and other naturally induced chemicals in the body.
You get in line and wait to go into some strange place filled with costumed ugly people intent to scare you. However, since you know it's a scam5 the best they can do is maybe surprise you. Some individuals really get into it and scream at the slightest thing. Most people though just laugh and a few troublemakers even vandalize the inside of the haunted house, or turn on the volunteers dressed up to scare people.
Personally, I think the people in line are more frightening than the nice volunteers often trying to help raise money for charities.
Haunted houses sometimes have elaborate tales about the goingson of the house which are described in flyers passed around to people standing in line. This makes mildly interesting conversation while tolerating the long wait. Then in groups of five or so, they let people in. Once inside the group is subjected to a series of rooms and hallways, as they walk or run through a madcap maze of fake blood, guts and gore.
There are many things that can ruin the experience of a clandestine haunted house. For example, exits are often clearly marked throughout the place, for safety purposes and to keep the insurance companies and the fire marshall from being upset. Being in a darkened hallway that has a clearly labelled and glowing EXIT sign sort of inhibits the scare factor. Also if a person jumps at you to try and scare you, but then their mask falls off unceremoniously, this also removes the potential suspension of disbelief that might allow you to enjoy the experience, unless the face of the person behind the mask is worse than the mask itself.
Perhaps these strange forms of entertainment are inspired by alleged actual haunted houses where ghosts supposedly haunt. Hence the name. However, these particular locations rarely have lines standing in front of them. In fact, the people residing the location generally run away when they first learn of this, until they realize they still haven't paid off the mortgage, so they call upon paranormal investigators to go into their house with very expensive looking equiptment trying to verify the legitimacy of such claims, potentially to explain to the insurance company why the walls are bleeding.
Unlike commercial haunted houses, the alleged real thing haunted houses are open year round, as ghosts are not known for sticking to time tables or holiday schedules.