October 31 lurks just around a dark and eerie corner, that happy wholesome holiday when we party hard for the dead. When we can legally send our children door-to-door to shake down the neighbors for M&Ms, Gummy Fangs, and a twelve-ounce bag of French Roast Espresso.
But where did Halloween come from? And what do hookers wear to a costume party?
The word Halloween, as you may well recall, is derived from two words: "hallow," meaning "to bless" -- and nothing says blessing like a gooey green spook -- and "een," the noise your mouth makes when you're prying the caramel out of your molars. And the real blessing of this holiday is that you're never too old to enjoy it, which occurred to me last November 1 at breakfast while I was chowing down on a Snickers omelet.
Halloween also inspires the competitive spirit, your big chance to get your front yard pictured on the cover of Occult Quarterly. It's also about creating world-class action-figure costumes like Spiderman, Pirate Jack Sparrow, or Albus Dumbledore. Or a chilling disguise, like a bloodthirsty telemarketer or a TSA agent seizing deadly vials of mascara.
The precursor to the Potluck Dessert, Halloween dates back thousands of years, long before the invention of Candy Corn or Oozing Nougat Eyeballs. Today's rituals have filtered down to us through the ages from diverse cultural festivals, compliments of the Celts, the Christians, and the Greek Olympic sport of toilet-papering trees.
In Celtic history, November 1st marked the onset of winter, a season they associated with darkness, death, and scraping their windshields. On October 31st, they celebrated "Samhain," the night when the ghosts of the dead wreaked havoc on the living by scooping First Prize for Best Costumes. To keep the spirits away, the Celts carried bright jack-o-lanterns carved out of big turnips, since no self-respecting ghost would be caught dead near a turnip.
Later on, the Romans popularized the Day of Pomona -- the goddess of fruit and trees, symbolized by the apple. This could explain why we bob for apples, except that nothing can explain why anyone would bob for apples. And the Christians celebrated All Souls' Day on November 2nd to honor the dead, some of whom may have overdosed on Tootsie Roll Midgets.
And now -- SURPRISE -- we present a multiple-choice POP QUIZ to see if you were paying attention. And here's your question: Why is Halloween a significant holiday?
A) Halloween provides an entire year's carbohydrates in one night;
2. Americans spend $6.9 billion per year on Halloween candy, decorations, costumes, and Trick-or-Treat bodyguards;
3. Halloween raises questions about ghosts, like, can they really fool with our chandeliers, slam our doors, and stir our soup counterclockwise? And if so, can we train them to empty the dishwasher?
THE ANSWER will be buried in the graveyard on October 31 under the dead oak tree. Go there at midnight and dig it up.
Originally posted on my web site at www.writingtogo.com.