Happy Halloween Month, San Diego

If San Diego (and I don’t think we’re alone) can take Halloween as a month-long theme, why not me? And why not here? I don’t think the chamber of commerce has adopted the once-pagan holiday as an official 30-day refrain but many businesses certainly have. My favorite (mentioned last column) is the Crypt on Park at University. How this display designer managed to incorporate childlike, playful fun into leather, whips, chains, blood, rats, spiders, and general imagery of punishment and humiliation, is, I think, remarkable. But then, we’re a can-do kinda town.

Cribbed from Wikipedia: “[Halloween] has roots in the Celtic festival of Samhain [whatever that is] and the Christian holiday All Saints’ Day, but is today largely a secular celebration.”

Oh, a bit further down, it reads: “The festival of Samhain celebrates the end of the ‘lighter half’ of the year and beginning of the ‘darker half’ and is sometimes regarded as the ‘Celtic New Year.’ The ancient Celts believed that the border between this world and the Otherworld became thin on Samhain, allowing spirits (both harmless and harmful) to pass through. The family’s ancestors were honoured and invited home while harmful spirits were warded off. It is believed that the need to ward off harmful spirits led to the wearing of costumes and masks. Their purpose was to disguise oneself as a harmful spirit and thus avoid harm.”

Under “Halloween Games,” here is one I never heard of: “Unmarried women [in the late 19th and early 20th centuries] were told that if they sat in a darkened room and gazed into a mirror on Halloween night, the face of their future husband would appear in the mirror. However, if they were destined to die before marriage, a skull would appear.” I wonder how many women did this before telling themselves, “I’ve got to get a life.”

“Many Christians ascribe no negative significance to Halloween, treating it as a purely secular holiday devoted to celebrating ‘imaginary spooks’ and handing out candy.… Other Christians feel concerned about Halloween…because they feel it trivializes — or celebrates — paganism, the occult, or other practices deemed incompatible with their beliefs.... Some consider Halloween to be completely incompatible with the Christian faith because of its origin as a pagan ‘Festival of the Dead.’ For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate Halloween because they believe anything that originated from a pagan holiday should not be celebrated by true Christians.”

I don’t believe the Witnesses celebrate birthdays, either. I could be wrong and so could Wikipedia. Still, what is Halloween (or All Souls’ Day or Day of the Dead) without a little religion? It’s certainly not much without a liberal peppering of paganism.

Under “See also,” we have, “Devil’s Night, Ghost Festival, Martinisingen, Qarqe’an,” and “Walpurgis Night.” This last is “…named after Saint Walpurga (ca. 710–777/9). As Walpurga was canonized on 1 May (ca. 870), she became associated with May Day…when witches meet on the Brocken mountain [in Germany] and hold revels with their gods....

“Qarqe’an is an annual tradition practiced in Kuwait and other Arab states of the Persian Gulf during the holy month of Ramadan (13–15 Ramadan). The tradition has existed for hundreds of years: children knock on the doors of homes in their neighborhood wearing traditional clothes and carrying a basket to receive sweets and nuts.

“Martinisingen takes place on 10 November (similar to the Catholic Martinssingen on 11 November) with groups of people carrying their lanterns from house to house and singing traditional songs. The Ghost Festival, also known as the Hungry Ghost Festival, is a traditional Chinese festival and holiday celebrated by Chinese in many countries.”

In the Chinese calendar (a lunisolar calendar), the Ghost Festival is on the 15th night of the seventh lunar month (14th in southern China).

“Devil’s Night is a name associated with October 30, the night before Halloween. It is related to the ‘Mischief night’ practiced in other parts of the United States and the world, but is chiefly associated with the serious vandalism and arson seen in Detroit, Michigan, from the ’70s to the ’90s, finally prompting the ‘Angel’s Night’ community response. One may remember the 1994 movie The Crow with Brandon Lee and set on Devil’s Night in Detroit.” [Ibid]

As one approaches the “good dark,” or death, one may find that reality provides excellent competition with imagination and folk festivals. Reading, as I am, To the White Sea by James Dickey about the 1945 firebombing of Tokyo makes Stephen King look like a harmless, goofy uncle.

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