Halloween: Special Saturday Edition

I usually take Saturdays off, but I will be off the next few days for a vacation, and, since it is  HALLOWEEN I rewrote my Halloween post.  I will be back on November 5.

The picture in the featured image is from the 1920s and shows film star Mary Pickford lighting a Jack-O-Lantern.

Halloween has a long history and to some scholars is likely to offer a lifetime of study and discovery. I was just wondering how we went from a harvest/seasonal festival to kids traipsing around their neighborhoods dressed in polyester super heroes costume and begging for candy.

In ancient times Samhain marked the end of harvest and the start of winter.  In a time before eliectric lights it truly was the darker time of the year. The veil between this world and others was thought to become thinner so gods and other supernaturals could come through to our world and be active.

These feared, respected and powerful beings  could be appeased with food, drink and part of the harvest. The souls of the departed were also thought to visit in many cultures and were honored in various ways.


  The progression of the transition seems obvious to me:

Christianity eclipsing the “old ways” — as well as the assimilation of Samhain into the Christian tradition.  At the same time, the idea of appeasing gods/fae/spirits was deeply ingrained enough that the idea remained part of the Western psyche.  So, people would go out in costumes personifying the old gods, fae or whatever and visit the houses in their community like carolers or to gather food for a feast. 

As life became less rural, the village mentality of a celebration uniting a community and with increased secularization of society led to a decreased ceremonial/religious/spiritual component. 

However the fae liked sweets, and so candy and other sweets became the norm for the early Trick or Treaters known as mummers or guisers. Over time the activity continued even as its meaning faded.

As they say above, Samhain was also a time when the veil between worlds was thinner, and what better time to be reminded of out own mortality. Once I read a couple of articles I could see a distinct progression.

Hallloween has a fabulous visual record, at least. The pics below were all listed as public domain images on Wikimedia.



Mummers Costume 1829 BritainA Mummer’s costume, c. 1829, probably made in Yorkshire, England. 3 pieces, newly acquired by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1829_Mummer_costume_PMA.JPG      

Winster   mummers
A most unusual group of masked mummers or guisers performing outside Winster Hall, Derbyshire, England, circa 1870, with three hobby horses One performer, in a long dress, is sweeping with a besom broom; two others (extreme left and right) are playing bladder and string. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Winster_Hobby_horses_%26_mummers_%28small%29.jpg
Here’s an earlier crowd, Mumming  by Frans Breydel from the early 1700s .  Somehow, I have always thought of “Mumming ” as having to do with New Years or Carnival, but I read that Samhain was regarded as the Celtic New Year so maybe it transferred.
Like today, people shared cards for Halloween. Some are cute and some go for the creepier aspect.  I am always amazed at how it was fine in the, even recent, past to perpetuate racial and ancestral sterotypes.  I include cards like these because they inform us about this part of American and world  history

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  The holiday was also represented in books, in items and then of course in costumes.

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Question MarkWhat was your favorite costume?   And here’s something we can all agree on! WPA Poster October's__bright_blue_weather__LCCN98509532  


LINK: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halloween                  

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