Halloween: A History

halloweenI’m totally into Hallowe’en.  It’s right up there with Christmas, St Paddy’s Day and the Summer Solstice.  (I think I was a Druid in a past life.)  Unfortunately, idiots have taken over the celebration and they’re ruining it.  Every year, the minute the calendar says October, our 5,000 channel television universe turns into a butcher shop and it’s wall-to-wall Horror Movie gore until the bloodlust finally abates November 1st.  What a bunch of crap!

Here’s the deal.

Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, what’s-his-name with the hockey mask and anybody else with a chainsaw, pickaxe or pointy stick have nothing to do with Hallowe’en.  These guys and their horrible movies were invented by Hollywood to cash in on the universal need for teenage boys to get close to teenage girls — who, BTW, are looking for an excuse to let them.  That’s where horror movies came from — not from Hallowe’en.  Hallowe’en was never about half-naked young women and dumbass young men getting their entrails splattered from here to Main Street.  Nor was it about the lunatics, maniacs and psychopaths who stalk them.  These are all modern creations of the film industry.

Historically, this is what Hallowe’en is all about.

Hallowe’en actually started out as a quasi-religious holiday.  Back in the day, when pagans ruled the world and Christianity was a fairly new religion, the battle for the collective souls of the European multitudes was waged without mercy.  Religious marketing was at its cutthroat best.  The early Christians weren’t stupid, and they hijacked a lot of pagan traditions and incorporated them into their rituals to ease the masses into accepting Jesus as their personal Saviour.  In those days, pagans (and most Christians) believed that unsatisfied souls walked the night, and they could, on occasion, mete out some pretty mean-spirited retribution on the living — if they saw fit.  The church decided that November 1st, Hallowmas, a day that already honoured the saints, would be a good opportunity for people to pray for the souls of the recently dead.  This would aid the tormented on their journey to heaven — and, more importantly, keep them away from the God-fearing living.  Since midnight masses were de rigueur in those days, the church services took place at night or on All Hallows’ Eve.  (Sound familiar?  Hallowe’en?)  However, the nouveaux Christians of the day weren’t above hedging their bets — just in case this Jesus thing didn’t work out.  On their way to church, they wore cloaks, masks and even costumes – to disguise themselves from the ghosts who were hanging around the cemetery, waiting for prayers of deliverance.  In addition, some of the poorer members of the parish would accept coins or food from the wealthier patrons to add their prayers for the dear departed.  That’s it: the time, the place, the costumes, the tricks and the treats.  There’s a lot more to it, but for bare bones, you can take this history to the bank.

Notice!  There were no chainsaws, axes, heavy mallets or ball peen hammers.  There were no knives, swords, machetes, garden forks, shovels or soup spoons.  Nobody got stabbed, jabbed, poked or prodded.  Nobody got torn limb from limb, dismembered or even bruised.   It wasn’t a bloodbath, or even a slight rinse.  Originally, and for over a thousand years of its history, Hallowe’en was spooky, creepy, perhaps even a little frightening, but murder and blood soaked mayhem were never on the agenda.  It’s only recently that it’s been turned into a month-long multi-channel Splatterfest.  And for my money that’s a total corruption of a perfectly good festival.

Friday:  How to Write a Horror Movie

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