Saturday, October 31, 2015

All Hallows' Eve

Snap-Apple Night (1833) by Daniel Maclise (Source)
Most, if not all, human cultures have festivals marking significant events during the year. The end of the harvest season, the winter solstice, the beginning of a new year, and the beginning of spring are all pretty common examples. Many of these events in Western culture were "Christianized" in the early years of the spread of that faith. Rather than take away a society's favorite rites, rituals and practices, make them part of the Christian tradition.

One such time was known by my ancestors as Samhainn. This marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of the "dark" part of the year, winter. (Winters in Scotland can be pretty bleak and dark from what I know. They can be that way in New England as well!)

I don't know much about Samhainn other than what you can find online. None of my living relatives ever practiced such a thing, we were all good Congregationalists and Catholics back in the day. Just wanted to mention the event as a tip o' the hat to my forebears.

Of course, what was Samhainn is now Halloween in these modern times. (Though as our culture continues to be denigrated and destroyed by idiotic progressivism, will Halloween still exist a hundred years from now? For that matter, will we retain any of our traditions? Will we slowly degenerate into some gray, soulless society which is about as much fun as a convention of Stalinists and Maoists? Geez, I hope not!)

Halloween, for those of you who didn't know, is a contraction of All Hallows' Eve, which is itself a contraction of All Hallows' Evening, which is the day before All Saints' Day, November 1st. So we're talking the 31st of October. (Just to clarify for those of you who have led sheltered lives or who perhaps are not familiar with Western culture.)

One thing I did not know (among the many thousands of things I do not know) is that there is something called "Allhallowtide", which includes All Hallows' Eve, All Saints' Day, and the 2nd of November, also known as All Souls' Day. Here's what I found on that -
Allhallowtide, Hallowtide, Allsaintstide, or the Hallowmas season, is the triduum encompassing the Western Christian observances of All Hallows' Eve (Hallowe'en), All Saints' Day (All Hallows') and All Souls' Day, which last from October 31 to November 2 annually. Allhallowtide is a "time to remember the dead, including martyrs, saints, and all faithful departed Christians." The present date of Hallowmas (All Saints' Day) and thus also of its vigil (Hallowe'en) was established for Rome perhaps by Pope Gregory III (731-741) and was made of obligation throughout the Frankish Empire by Louis the Pious in 835. Elsewhere, other dates were observed even later, with the date in Ireland being 20 April. In the early 11th century, the modern date of All Souls' Day was popularized, after Abbot Odilo established it as a day for the monks of Cluny and associated monasteries to pray for the dead. In the United Kingdom, the Church of England, mother church of the Anglican Communion, extended All Saints-tide to include Remembrance Sunday in the 20th century. W
As Buck was wont to say, "I had no ideer..."

Truly I did not, but it's finding little tidbits like this which make me love history. There's lots of it and most of it is interesting. Well, to an historian it's interesting and I consider myself to be one, though of the unpaid variety.

I have to say, I like the idea of having a day set aside to honor the memories of those who have gone before. I found this painting online and it moved me, deeply...

All Souls' Day (1888) by Jakub Schikaneder (Source)

There's something very evocative about this painting. The old lady stands in silent contemplation after she has placed a wreath on the tomb of a loved one. No doubt remembering the good times they shared, perhaps even the hardships they suffered together. It's a good thing, remembering those you loved and who have passed on. Since I became an adult (stop laughing WSO), this time of year has had this element of remembrance and sadness for me.

Now growing up I knew nothing of these things. I was young, immortal, and invincible! All I knew was that at Halloween I got to dress up in some sort of costume and go Trick or Treating. I mean free candy, come on, how special and cool is that?

Yes, there was always a Jack O' Lantern out on the front steps as well. Carved by my Dad, lit from within by a candle, and heavily guarded. Why guarded you ask?

Well, there was a certain set in town who loved to smash pumpkins (no, they did not grow up to form a band). The preferred method was to roll the pumpkins down one of the steeper streets in town. Okay, they didn't so much smash them as they did roll them. The trip down the hill would actually smash the pumpkin. But (you guessed it) I digress.

This certain set was generally composed of high school males. High school males with access to motorized vehicles and who had a certain penchant for high spirited antics (what in this day and edge might be termed anti-social behavior). At any rate, my Dad vowed to "shoot any sumbitch who tried to make off with my kids' pumpkin!"

I'm sure it was all bluster but Dad might have been serious. At any rate we never, to my knowledge, ever lost a pumpkin to a pumpkin roller / smasher. (Nor did we lose any pumpkins to future band members, just to clarify.)

 No, I never smashed (or rolled) a pumpkin. I find the practice abhorrent.

Now costumes, what did we dress up as?

For nearly every year, save one, my friend Bruce and I would dress up as partisans. Think guys who sneak around at night blowing up Nazi trains and rendezvousing with the British commandos who resupply them with guns and explosives in dark fields in France. We would go from door to door with our toy tommy guns, faces darkened with burnt cork, wearing subdued civilian clothing of a military cut. I doubt any of the residents of the neighborhood felt threatened by us as we collected our tribute. (We did think of it that way. In our young minds we were collecting for La RésistanceA bas les Boches! Vive la France!)

The evening would end at the elementary school where there would be a Halloween party. Back then the adults had the balls to actually call something what it was, not this pusillanimous crap we have nowadays. Dammit, we had Christmas parties too, not end of the year holiday parties!

The last time I dressed for Halloween was when we were stationed in Germany. A friend decided to have a Halloween party, a costume party no less! The Missus Herself went as a French maid, I was a German soldier, complete with authentic WWII helmet and camouflage smock. There was a contest for best costume.

Juvat would no doubt not be surprised to hear that the French maid won. Hey, I got one vote! (I also had the following said to me by our host, a captain and graduate of Texas A&M, yes he did the military side of things there: "Nice costume Sarge. Did you forget we're in Germany? Really a German from WWII? Are. You. Insane?" That last bit was rhetorical, everyone knew that I was a bit loopy. All those years of loud Dash-60s, roaring J-79 jet engines, and breathing fumes from jet fuel will do that to a fella. Ask Russ!)

One year a certain American lady of our acquaintance (wife of the JAG and she spoke excellent German) living in our little German village, convinced our Teutonic neighbors that we should "do" Halloween. The German parents (good Catholics all) were a little hesitant but the kleine Deutschen all thought it a wondrous idea. Come on, free candy! Sofort, lass uns gehen!

So one year, in the small village of Waldfeucht, in Kreis Heinsberg, in the state of Nordrhein-Westfalen, in the Bundesrepublik Deutschland, we had about ten American kids and roughly 30 German kids going door to door shouting "trick or treat" and holding out bags to receive their just due from their elders.

I mentioned to one of the wee Germans, "Uh, where's your costume, shouldn't you have a costume, ya know, a disguise?"

"Ja, ich versteh. I am wearing a costume Mein Herr! I'm pretending to be an American!"

Heh. I slipped the kid an extra candy bar, he earned it.

The kids don't come to our neighborhood anymore. They get loaded into soccer mom vans and get driven to the wealthier neighborhoods. Sure, the candy is probably better and it is probably safer and it certainly saves me the need to buy candy for the trick or treaters. Still and all, I kind of miss those days. The old days.

It's probably very politically incorrect of me, innit?


  1. I once, under the influence of spirits and stupidity participated in smashing a pumpkin, carved no doubt by a loving dad for an innocent child.

    I still feel a twinge of guilt and remorse when i think of it.

    1. I was tempted once, then remembered all the work my Dad put into carving our pumpkin. I found something else to do that night.

  2. The kids don't come to your neighborhood anymore? Probably because of too many years of you giving out apples pennies and raisins.

    1. Heh.

      Actually ours is an "old" neighborhood. The average age is probably 50. No young kids either. Back when we had young kids on the street, we had kids come around and...

      Oh wait, sarcasm, right?

      (I gave out zucchini and tomatoes in the years we had a bumper crop. People at work stopped talking to me as well. Go figure...)

  3. Yeah, times they are a changing... We never got 'taken' anywhere on Halloween. We were 'free' to WALK as far as we wanted to go...LOL

    1. As my Dad said, "You can go as far as you want and get as much candy as you want. Just remember, you have to lug it all home."

      Then cut our wandering a bit.

  4. Dad had us carve our own punkins. It was a test, like. I remember seeing smashed punkins in the street. Also remember the sight and smell of hard-frozen jack o'lanterns slumping in the warm afternoon sunlight.

    One halloween a friend and I executed a spectacular trick. We stole the Mor-Valu stamps sandwich sign from the front of the local grocery store and relocated it to the mortuary. I still think that's one of the funniest stunts I ever pulled. "Allen Funeral Home. Now Offering Mor-Valu Stamps!" Probably have to be a bit twisted to fully appreciate the humor. And if I recall correctly, not everyone in town was sufficiently twisted.

    I also x-rayed a lot of candy at the NASO Clinic back in the day. I thought it was a nice little service to provide and we got to see a lot of little costumed kids having fun. Rambunctious but unfailingly polite.

    1. Heh. Mor-Value Stamps. Now there's a prank.

      I remember those scares about stuff in the candy.

    2. One Halloween a home with five daughters acquired a sign, "24 Hour Service".


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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