All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day, All Martyrs’ Day, Samhain, the list of names and customs are endless. One can chase one’s bifurcated tail for a very long time and not be any more certain of its sources or meanings, but then one would miss the fun and significance of what it really is. And what would be the point of that?
So, let’s instead call it for what it is. Halloween. A delicious mélange of spooks and witches, demons and sprites, vampires, werewolves and Elvis impersonators. Or is that really Elvis?
In Ireland, it’s an opportunity for pub-crawling men to cross-dress. In Portugal, to bake soul cakes – sweet buns with crosses etched into them – offerings innocents exchange for candy with promises of prayers for the newly departed. Candles are lit to guide the dead home for one more visit before shoving off on their spirit journey. Halloween, a way to poke fun at death while looking over one’s shoulder, to laugh at mortality even while acknowledging death’s certitude. A healthy thing really, a communion between those whose hearts still beat and those for whom the beating is stilled. Dia de Muertos. Trick or treat, an extortion racket run by five-year olds with a sweet tooth. A cavity-in-waiting. A danse macabre with towering fires casting horned silhouettes, or are they shadows cast by dentists leaping in the flames of greedy anticipation? Pagan meets Christian, Greenwich Village goes a little more crazy, freedom to put on a mask and do nameless things in anonymity.
Halloween, a night to be bad, feel good, and be let off the hook in the forgiving light of the day after. Halloween. Dance in the fire. Let yourself go. Trick yourself into a treat and claim the devil made you do it.