By N Oji Mzilikazi
31 October 2016
While helping a buddy earlier tonight push his stalled car from one side of the road to the other to avoid a parking ticket, I couldn’t help but notice children accompanied by parents, unaccompanied tweens and teens in costumes and without—all going about “trick or treating.” I should say “treating.” I don’t think/can’t remember the last time I heard a story/report of a child/children exposed to a “trick(s).”
I never got Halloween celebrations. Perchance it is the Christian in me, as well as I coming to the party late—as an adult.
Though I had knowledge of Halloween; understood its ideology, my encounter with Halloween was only upon emigrating to Canada in the 70s.
With the arrival of children, neither them nor my wife and I were participants—even when my children would screw up their faces and complain about missing out on all the fun with their friends. (They eventually rebelled and…) Halloween was “too devilish” a thing. Allow me to explain.
The Celts once occupied a huge part of Europe. Gaelic, Erse and Welsh are the Celtic languages that survived. Halloween, celebrated on 31 October marked their New Year.
Halloween was the day of the dead and a day of blood sacrifice. Halloween welcomed and invoked the spirits of the dead with the thrust of gaining supernatural powers, as well as having the dead come back to life. Tricks and treats were tools in their invocation.
Ghost stories and tales of the macabre were also told and listened to, not to scare or frighten, but to encourage the presence of the dead. (Transplanted in South America, Halloween was transformed into their religious day of the dead.)
Despite the rule of the Roman Catholic Church in Europe and its colonies, “pagan rites, rituals and religions” flourished.
In recognition that Christian theology and punishment were no match for such deeply held beliefs, the Church decided the next best thing was to temper those beliefs by introducing and instituting Holy Days the very next day; the day after the high days of “pagan” festivity.
Thus, Christmas came after Saturnalia, the Roman harvest festival that pays tribute to Saturn, the God of the harvest; Ash Wednesday followed Carnival, the ancient festival that celebrated the joys of the flesh. Ashes are used to make the sign of the cross on the forehead of believers and those who might have participated in the carnival festivities. Ash Wednesday launched the Lenten period of purification; a forty-day period of fasting, penance, and prayer; and the two days following Halloween being respectively All Saints Day and All Souls Day.
Since Halloween involved invocation of the dead, cemeteries were fertile ground. Graves were vandalized. And so, on November 1st and November 2nd, All Saints Day and All Souls Day, prayers were said and candles lit on the graves of the departed and on the steps, porches and balconies of homes.
The festival of lights was a commemoration of the faithfully departed as well as to calm and guide the spirits of loved ones/the faithfully departed back to their place of abode, just in case they were disturbed by Halloween celebrants.
Anglo-Saxon/Norman immigrants introduced Halloween to North America. Repositioned as a children’s trick or treat adventure, Halloween was monetized by Big Business to peddle costumes, chocolates, candies and sweets. Halloween and its association with “evil” became a source and inspiration for horror movies—as entertainment.
The abundance of “evil” based costumes is a reminder of Halloween true essence. Even though we are tempted to think that celebrating Halloween is harmless fun, law enforcement officials annually warn parents and kids of possible dangers lurking within the goodies received. Also, animal rights groups reveal that annually a lot of dogs and cats are mutilated on the night of Halloween. As a preventative measure, there are animal centers that would not allow the adoption of any pet days before Halloween.
Besides the hyperactivity in kids the high consumption of sugars engenders, the constant and high consumption of candies, sweets and chocolates contribute to, as well as result in dental cavities. Trick or treating/Halloween provides kids with candies and a sugar-high for days.
As someone whose formative years involved the celebration of All Saints Day and All Souls Day, it would be an understatement to say I missed their celebration.