Well, fellow curmudgeons, I’m feeling a little more grouchy than usual this week, and I know why. Halloween—easily the silliest, most annoying, and least justified of holidays—is upon us. This year it falls on a Thursday, meaning it'll be going on all bloody week.
Having just done a bit of research for this week’s column, here’s what I now know about Halloween: It all started about 2000 years ago as a Celtic festival called Samhain, which marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of a dark, cold winter. Those savvy Celts believed this was a time during which the worlds of the living and the dead intermingled. To me, this sounds like a very good time to stay home, but instead, the Samhain rituals included a communal bonfire with animal sacrifices, a bit of fortune telling, and the wearing of animal heads and skins to ward off ghosts. The ghosts, you see, had a thuggish habit of damaging crops, and the Celts needed those to get through the winter, so . . . you see the need for the animal costumes.
Since then, through various ages and civilizations, the holiday has been appropriated, combined with others, and mushed around like vegetables on a child’s dinner plate. It’s been used to commemorate slaughtered saints, regular saints who died of old age, and dead people in general, to celebrate the harvest, and to honor the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. Somehow, two themes were always part of its raison d'être: crops and dead folks. It strikes me as a weird combo, but somehow it made sense to everyone from the Celts to the Romans to the Pilgrims: Let’s celebrate the stuff we’ve grown and some brutally killed martyrs.
I didn’t find anything about witches, vampires, pumpkins, spiders, skeletons, werewolves, bats, mummies, or for that matter, candy corn, so I have no idea how those became parts of the whole mish mosh. Then again, my research wasn’t particularly extensive.
These days, very few of us are warding off evil spirits or praying to the gods for a harvest that will get us through the winter. And really, without either of those two activities, there’s no excuse for celebrating Halloween. Dressing as a sexy nurse or a wacky hippie won’t accomplish either of those goals, nor will eating gobs of candy until you lose all control of your emotions. Speaking of that, you may wonder, what exactly does “trick or treat” mean? I’m so glad you asked. I researched that as well, and it turns out that trick or treating is basically socially accepted extortion. The phrase is a declaration that, in the event no treat is provided, some sort of mischief (trickery) may be committed. We’re training our sweet little tots to be mob enforcers. “Nice house you got there Mrs. Rosenblum. It’d be a real shame if something bad were to happen to it . . . like eggs getting thrown at it, or some mamaluke covering your beautiful yard in toilet paper. Real shame. Now we can do this the easy way or the hard way. So how ‘bout you do yourself a favor and make with the candy, okay sweetheart?”
Candy ought to be procured from reputable vendors and consumed civilly, not obtained through intimidation then gobbled on the streets and stored in buckets. And while, yes, it’s still a free country, no one should kid himself that dressing as a cowboy, genie, pimp, pirate, wrestler, flapper, biker, kitty cat, mad scientist, Buzz Lightyear, or Nancy Pelosi has any connection whatsoever to the ancient religious ritual we claim to be celebrating.
In its current form, Halloween is no more than an excuse for recklessness and idiocy. While the kids are threatening the neighbors with mayhem, the childless adults are leaving their homes in outfits they wouldn’t be caught dead in on any other night and whooping it up at parties or getting drunk and marching through the streets yelling for no reason whatsoever. It’s almost more jarring than the thought of people wearing the heads of recently slaughtered animals and dancing around a bonfire telling fortunes. Participate if you must. The Curmudgeon will definitely be hiding in my house—dressed like a normal human person—until the whole damnable thing is over.