About the time you read this, you probably will be asking yourself the great existential question all serious people ask themselves this time of year: “Did I buy enough candy?”
Today is Halloween and that means tonight you will be visited by hordes of strange, small-in-stature creatures who will demand that you turn over pounds of sugar to them.
I’ve often thought that if an alien came to visit us and landed on Plum Street on Halloween, he (or she or it or whatever) would certainly be confused. Here’s an entire society that dresses its children in creepy costumes and then teaches them that it’s a good thing to go door-do-door and beg for unhealthy food from complete strangers!
You’ve probably heard that Halloween has become the second biggest holiday in America, but that really isn’t true. Sure, we spend billions of dollars on costumes and candy and lots of people even dress up their pets (22 million of them according to one story), but you have to buy a lot of tiny candy bars to add up to all those turkeys at Thanksgiving or golf clubs you buy your Dad on Father’s Day or jewelry or whatever you buy your mother on Mother’s Day (please, tell me you don’t buy her a vacuum cleaner). Most lists that add these things up put Halloween down around No. 6 or No. 7, often finishing behind the Super Bowl when it comes to total money being spent.
Still, that’s a pretty good score for such a weird event.
Halloween started out way back with Celtic tribes (no, not the ones in Boston). These Celts lived in the British Isles and France and wore costumes to ward off ghosts at the start of their new year, which happened to be Oct. 31. In the 8th century Pope Gregory picked Nov. 1 as All Saints Day, absorbing some of the old Celtic practices in the process. The day before All Saints Day became All Hallows’ Eve and as the years went by we all decided that the ghosts and other creatures were a lot more interesting than the saints.
Halloween was slow to catch on in America — it wasn’t the kind of thing Puritans were fond of. It did have some followers in the South and in the 19th century when lots of immigrants came to America, the holiday picked up steam. By the mid 20th century it had become a popular secular holiday, just in time for me to cash in during the days of my youth.
I guess children today don’t realize how they’re being cheated on Halloween. They get little bags with seven or eight M&Ms in them or candy bars the size of your little finger. Back in the good old days, when boys were boys and girls were girls and we all had mouths full of cavities, adults would pass out full-size candy bars on Halloween. These were veritable bricks of pure sugar, much bigger than candy bars you buy at the store today. There were boxes full of Milk Duds and bags with about a zillion Sugar Babies in them. We’d haul bags of this stuff home and be on a sugar buzz until Christmas.
Every year, there would be a few adults who would try to bring sanity to the whole thing by giving out apples or oranges or raisins. We avoided those houses and sometimes soaped their windows. Raisins! Can you believe it?
You might be surprised to know that in the early days of Halloween the holiday also had a romantic side to it. There were all kinds of Halloween traditions that purported to help young women find their mates. In Scotland, women were supposed to name hazel nuts for young men and throw them into a fire. The one that burned rather than exploding represented her future husband. Or was it the one that exploded rather than burning that represented her husband? It’s so hard to keep track of magical rituals. I’m not sure what role the eligible bachelors played in all this – they probably were out begging for candy and were oblivious to the young ladies’ attention. Some things never change.
Those old druids who started all this supposedly could see the future but I doubt they could see all this. They might be mostly forgotten, but in a way they live on in Milky Ways and Butterfingers. I’ll probably sneak a few of those myself tonight, just for old time’s sake. I’m sure the Celts would approve.
David Lindeman is a Troy resident and former editor at the Troy Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.