Happy Halloween everyone! Here’s hoping you’ll have a safe, fun-filled All Hallow’s Eve. As there is only so much new material one can write about an ancient holiday I will replay for you an article I wrote five years ago on the subject. It’s got a little history of the holiday along with a Halloween tale in this one.
Halloween is an annual holiday observed on October 31 and its roots are in the Celtic festival of Samhain and the Christian holiday All Saint’s Day. The word Halloween is first mentioned in the 16th century and represents a Scottish variant of the fuller All-Hallows-Even ("evening"), that is, the night before All Hallows Day, also known as All Saints Day. Up through the early 20th century, the spelling "Hallowe'en" was frequently used, eliding the "v" and shortening the word. Although the phrase All Hallows is found in Old English (ealra hālgena mæssedæg, mass-day of all saints), All-Hallows-Even is, itself, not used until 1556.
The festival of Samhain celebrates the end of the “lighter half” of the year and the 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 an evil spirit and thus avoid harm. Halloween has evolved, somewhat, over the centuries but the main theme of ghosts and spirits and dressing in costumes still prevails.
My memories of Halloween’s past always start with the Halloween night of 1969, which almost cost my older brother the full use of one of his legs.
It was a cold and dreary night and a four-inch layer of snow covered the ground as my brother and I dressed for the night of Trick or Treating. I was approaching my thirteenth birthday and my older brother, Gordie, was fourteen, so we both knew that if this wasn’t our last Halloween for gathering treats it was certainly close to being the last.
Our plans were to make a full night of it. Gord and I, along with a group of about four other friends, were going to gather treats from the twenty-five, or so, houses in the little hamlet of Marquis, SK., return the goods home, and then go back out to play a few tricks on some unsuspecting (or maybe fully suspecting) households.
I can’t remember what Gord was dressed up as but I remember that I was dressed as a clown. (Yes, I know, insert your own joke here.) Anyway, we were dressed in layers to offset the cold temperatures and although the layering worked to keep us warm it also made it difficult to run smoothly.
We played a few tricks on some of the houses where the resident’s choice of Halloween treats didn’t quite measure up to the treat standards of this group of adolescent boys, (home-made cookies and bruised apples just don’t cut it). A few egg tosses and some window soaping later, our group then headed for what would be the last house that Gord and I would be tricking with them that night.
As we separately approached the house like a company of soldiers in a World War II flick, pretending the eggs and rotten tomatoes in our hands were hand-grenades, we were the ones who got tricked. The occupant of the house and a couple of his friends were lying in wait in the shadows near the house knowing that a group of tricksters would be coming along soon and they were about to reverse the roles on them. And boy did it work! They came out of the shadows yelling and screaming scattering our group of friends who ran off, themselves screaming, in every direction.
With an already heightened sense of fear it didn’t take much to throw a panic into us. I don’t think the residents of the house even tried to chase us at all, they just continued to yell and laugh as we ran, fleeing for our lives, while trying to get as far away from that house as fast as we could.
In my brother Gord’s effort to escape, he tripped on an old rotten wooden sidewalk and went down onto his knees. As fate would have it, his left knee came down right onto a broken whiskey bottle which cut into his knee in several places. I was smaller and slower than he was, back then, so I came upon him when he was already down. He said his leg wouldn’t work and I’d have to help him home. I’d be doing it alone, too, as the rest of our group had fled into the night.
There were only five or six streetlights in that little hamlet and none too close to us now so we couldn’t really see the full damage to his knee in the dark. I struggled under his weight as we limped toward home. Finally, about a block from home, we stopped under a streetlight so I could rest and we could look at the wound. I tore through the layers of clothing and finally we could see the blood-soaked gashes in his leg. “Oh, expletive!!” we said together.
I propped him up as best I could as we kind of three-legged raced it the rest of the way home. Mom was expecting more trick or treaters so the commotion at the back door wasn’t too much of a shock until she saw our faces and Gord’s blood-soaked leg.
Mom and Dad rushed him into the Union Hospital in Moose Jaw and after a three-hour operation the surgeon assured them that Gord would regain the full use of his leg, but a mere millimeter or two, either way, and his tendons would have been damaged beyond repair. It appears that fate looked upon us with both sides of his face that night.
Turns out, that was the last year that Gord and I officially went trick-or-treating. We may have gone out for a few tricks again, in the years after that, but the spirit and the fun had definitely been taken out of the event for us.
So, I say to all of you trick-or-treaters, go out and have a good time but be careful, be safe, and always remember that the spirits work in strange ways.
“It's said that All Hallows' Eve is one of the nights when the veil between the worlds is thin - and whether you believe in such things or not, those roaming spirits probably believe in you, or at least acknowledge your existence, considering that it used to be their own. Even the air feels different on Halloween, autumn-crisp and bright.”-Erin Morgenstern. (1978-).