By Mandi Donohue
As the snow and fog haunt us from the mountaintops, with frightening tales of the past and menacing warnings of what’s to come, Halloween has crept right in next to us while we weren’t looking! Do you have your costumes yet? Lliam and I are currently headed to California, taking our time down the coast, to arrive Saturday in Los Angeles for our friend’s epic Halloween party. We will be gone for a little over two weeks. In my stead, the reins will be given back to our very own luminary and wordsmith, Bob Spiwak. Yay! Thank you, Bob.
Though there are lots of different influences that make Halloween what it is today, most scholars can agree that Halloween found its roots pre-Christianity in a Celtic celebration called Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celtic New Year fell on Nov. 1 and marked the end of summer and harvest. A more burdensome way of life for the Celts, winter was associated with death and the darker half of the year.
Halloween started as a belief that the transitional night of Oct. 31, the boundary was open between the living and the dead. The living would propitiate these spirits, which were both feared and respected, by leaving food and drink outside their houses to ensure their livestock survived the winter.
When Christianity arrived, Nov. 1 was called All Hallow’s Day, making Oct. 31 All Hallow’s Eve and Nov. 2 All Soul’s Day. The three days combined were called Allhallowtide and consisted of a vigil for honoring the saints and the departed making their way to heaven.
During the Reformation in the 16th century, some Protestants determined the spirits evil as it interfered with their notions of predestination. Ghoulishly ever after, Halloween became something different to every group and nationality in Europe and wasn’t even celebrated in America until the Irish and Scottish settled here in the 19th century.
Clearly, the American celebration of Halloween is very cultural and in comparison to some other countries, a very “tidy” one. I would argue that we are a nation so comfortable with our lifestyles and dissociative social media, that most of us have lost touch with the spirit world altogether.
Take, for example Toraja, the other extreme, in South Sulawesi in Indonesia, and the ritual called Ma’nene, The Ceremony of Cleaning Corpses. There is such reverence and respect for the deceased that they are literally dug up from the ground and dressed in new clothes and accessories in celebration. I know. I’ll stick with the candy, too! But it really is fascinating how much our perception of Halloween, and other holidays, is completely cultural. Interesting, interesting…
Oh, how I love Halloween! I’m bummed to miss it this year, but if you you’re looking to celebrate the festivities within our own little community, the Mazama Store is doing its annual Halloween party. Meet-up is at 5 p.m., where directions will be given out for the kids’ route and, as always, epic donuts, cider and a bonfire to follow. It’s always a good time, a chance to hang out with your neighbors and see Mazama’s little munchkins all dressed up. Adorable! Happy haunting, Methow Valley! (And happy birthday to our fearless leader, Don Nelson.)