October 30, 2010

Plunkin' down dollars for pumpkins and more

I had a choice between an elaborate brown hoop-skirted costume and a simpler one. I picked the simpler one not only because it's purple, but because it's cheaper.

Many of us are still economizing, although the National Retail Federation says Halloween spending this year is expected to bounce back to 2008 levels after a big drop last year. This year's total is estimated at $5.8 billion. Yeah. With a B.

I sometimes wonder whether neo-pagans are as annoyed by the commercialization of Halloween as Christians are about Christmas.

The old holiday, Samhain (pronounced SOW-ahn, which means, roughly, "summer's end"), marked the final harvest of the year, after which the earth became "dead," entering a winter dormancy. European Pagans had a variety of ways to celebrate this holiday. Would it surprise you to know none of them involved orange and black taffy? More than you probably care to know is here. The festival began at sundown Oct. 31 and continued through Nov. 1.

As with Easter and Christmas, the early church took an adoptive approach with this holiday. In 835, at about the time there came to be more Saints than there were days in the year to have feasts for them, Pope Gregory III initiated "All Saint's Day," and put it on Nov. 1. So the day before became All Hallow's Eve, presumably because "Salloween" didn't have quite the same ring to it.

Pumpkins, which are indigenous to the Americas, didn't come into the picture until after Irish immigrants got here. In Ireland, jack o'lanterns were made with turnips. But in America, the Irish began using pumpkins instead, not only because they are bigger, but because their abundance made them cheaper. See, I'm not the only one cutting costs around this holiday.

In the mid-19th century, Halloween was basically just an excuse for trickery and vandalism, sometimes involving outhouses. In later Victorian days, celebrations mellowed into tame harvest festivals. It wasn't until around 1920 that people began sending their kids door-to-door like so many beggars.

Now, parents tend to keep their kids off the street, seeking more sanitized venues like shopping malls. Even churches have begun holding Halloween parties, which strikes me as odd. It must strike the pagans as even odder.

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