Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The 5 Days of Halloween: Day 3

Welcome, creepers! So glad to have you back on day 3. Now that your appetite is whet, are you finally getting in the mood for Halloween?
On day 1 we talked a little about the symbolism of Halloween, specifically about the Jack O'lantern. But did you ever wonder why we get candy? Why we go door to door and trick...or treat?
Times were much simpler when Xemnu was a little monster-tot, let me tell you. Each Halloween I'd dress in my best costume and march out the door with a bag (or pillowcase, on those years I felt particularly ambitious), usually with a parent or older brother. It was a different time. A time when you'd easily see 50 or even 100 kids in your neighborhood Trick-or-Treat-ing. And almost everyone had their porch light on so you'd know there would be candy. By the bucketful.
Now, sadly, it's usually community-sponsored 'events' like a trunk-or-treat where parents can shove their little tykes through a cattle conveyor for candy. It makes me a little sad and it takes away some of the magic from the holiday. But I digress.
Curious myself, I found a nice and succinct history, if you will, of how and why we came to trick-or-treat on Halloween at

Obvious similarities suggest at least a notional link between the present-day Halloween custom of wearing costumes and going trick-or-treating and the medieval practices of "mumming" and "going a-souling" on the eve of All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2). Mumming took the form of wearing costumes, chanting or singing, play-acting, and general mischief making, while souling entailed going door to door and offering prayers for the dead in exchange for treats, particularly "soul cakes."
Another possible antecedent was the British custom, dating from the 1600s, of youths wearing masks and carrying effigies while begging for pennies on Bonfire Night (also known as Guy Fawkes Night), the November 5 commemoration of the so-called Gunpowder Plot to blow up Parliament in 1605.
Interestingly enough, though, by the mid-1800s when Irish immigrants brought the holiday to North America, the customs of mumming and souling were all but forgotten in most of Great Britain. Americans by and large had no idea who Guy Fawkes was, let alone why anyone should go begging for "pennies for the Guy." And despite the fact that whatever was left of the October 31 observance had somehow achieved a permanent spot on the American holiday calendar by the turn of the 20th century, there's no mention in published sources of "trick-or-treating" or anything resembling it before 1939.
One does find mention — many mentions, in fact — of unrestrained pranksterism and vandalism in connection with Halloween festivities in America from the late 1800s on, thus one current theory holds that trick-or-treating was contrived by adults to provide an orderly alternative to juvenile mischief.
Whatever its precise origins, trick-or-treating was an established Halloween tradition by the 1940s and remains so to this day.
And that's about as good an explanation as we're going into for today! Hang around creeps! We're almost there!

Links of Interest: - a website devoted to Disney's Haunted Mansion attraction.
In case you needed to know what a zombie apocalypse is. Here is how to survive it.
The complete movie Night of the Comet on Youtube.
The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombi, by Wade Davis. At Amazon.