The love of a good scare

Nise's Notes
by Denise Schoppe

The Marlin Democrat
October 26, 2005


Ghosts. Goblins. Ghouls. Oh my!

Clearly it is time for Halloween. All the Christmas stuff is on sale at department stores already.

I do love Halloween. If for no other reason than the glorious fact that it’s a time for candy. I’ll be 90 years old and I’ll still love this holiday for the fact that it brings about the sharing of candy.

There’s also that fantastic scare factor. I have several books of nothing but ghost stories. I hunt out the shows on the Travel Channel that tell “real life” ghost stories. Turn out all the lights and wait for that inevitable tingle down the spine. The hairs raise up on the back of the neck. Goose bumps raise on your arms and legs. There’s rustle in the corner. What could it be??

Probably just the cat getting himself into trouble again.

I seriously do enjoy the fun of the fright that surrounds Halloween. While today the holiday is primarily all about free candy (gimme!!!), long, long ago it was taken far more seriously.

Halloween gets its name from “All Hallows Eve” — the night before “All Hollows Day” or “All Saints Day” celebrated by the Catholic Church to honor saints.

In my research on the internet I found that in the 5th century BC, in Celtic Ireland, summer officially ended on October 31, a holiday called Samhain.

One story said that it was believed that on that day the disembodied spirits of all those who had died throughout the preceding year would come back in search of living bodies to possess for the next year. Those still living did not want to be possessed, and thus, on October 31, villagers would dress up in all manner of ghoulish costumes and noisily paraded around the neighborhood, being as destructive as possible in order to frighten away spirits looking for bodies to possess.

Trick-or-treating has several origins. One origin is that from the ninth-century European custom called souling.

On November 2, All Souls Day, early Christians would walk from village to village begging for “soul cakes,” made out of square pieces of bread with currants. The more soul cakes the beggars would receive, the more prayers they would promise to say on behalf of the dead relatives of the donors. At the time, it was believed that the dead remained in limbo for a time after death, and that prayer, even by strangers, could speed up a soul’s passage to heaven.

The Jack-O-Lantern custom is said to come from Irish folklore. A man named Jack, who was notorious as a drunkard and trickster, tricked Satan into climbing a tree. Jack then carved an image of a cross in the tree’s trunk, trapping the devil up the tree. Jack made a deal with the devil that, if he would never tempt him again, he would promise to let him down the tree. After Jack died, he was denied entrance to Heaven because of his evil ways, but he was also denied access to Hell because he had tricked the devil. Instead, the devil gave him a single ember to light his way through the frigid darkness. The ember was placed inside a hollowed-out turnip to keep it glowing longer.

The Irish used turnips as their “Jack’s lanterns” originally. An Irish potato famine that caused 700,000 people to immigrate to the Americas. These immigrants brought with them their traditions of Halloween and Jack-O-Lanterns. They found that pumpkins were far more plentiful than turnips. So the Jack-O-Lantern in America was a hollowed-out pumpkin, lit with an ember.

I’ve only in the past few years taken an interest in carving my own Jack-O-Lantern, but I always loved trick-or-treating through the streets of my hometown. It never seemed to fail, though, that a “cold snap” would come and cause my costume to be hidden under a heavy jacket. Back then, I hated that. Today, I welcome the cooler temperatures. The drop in temperature and the sight of children dressing up as ghosts, goblins, witches, princesses, super heroes and any number of “beings” means one thing: the beginning of the holiday season and the move towards the end of another year.

Time does fly and I can hardly believe the season has begun. However, it is my favorite time of year as well and I welcome it.
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