In case your calendar is out of order, I’d like to inform you that Halloween is this weekend. This means that it is socially acceptable for the children in your neighborhood to come to your front door and beg for products containing processed sugar and high fructose corn syrup.
If you want to be well-liked, you’ll purchase the really good candy (which contains chocolate). Further, you should make sure each piece can fill the palm of a 10-year-old boy wearing an Iron Man costume—anything smaller may be met with disgruntlement and covert eye-rolling. Also, please don’t be a house that only gives out Sweet Tarts. If we wanted candy that reminded us of antacids, we can just go down to Walgreens and buy some Tums.
Many folks think that Halloween is a modern holiday, but, actually, that is not the case. Use of the word “Halloween” dates to 1743, but it derives from the term “All Hallows’ Eve”—which was an old religious festival (with pagan roots) that honors the dead. As early as the 16th century, celebrations of All Hallows’ Eve were widespread in Scotland, Ireland and Wales—and the traditions bear a marked similarity to those we know today.
Children would wear disguises and sing rhymes and songs in exchange for fruit, nuts, and sweets. This early form of trick-or-treating was called “guising.” Like today, that harvest feast would be the highlight of their childhoods.
I’d like to see what would happen if we passed out a bunch of fruit and nuts to trick-or-treaters nowadays. Half of the kids would sneer at the fruit and the rest would go into anaphylactic shock from their severe nut allergies.
Halloween is about more than just trick-or-treating, thankfully. It’s also a time for scary books and movies that will make it hard for you to sleep at night. Long before Hollywood made movies about chainsaw murderers and children that see dead people, writers throughout history have been crafting stories designed to make you wonder if you remembered to lock your front door.
I must admit that I’m a wuss when it comes to scary books; I generally avoid them whenever possible. One of the innovators of American horror fiction was Edgar Allen Poe. In 1843, he published his famous work “The Tell-Tale Heart.” I was forced to read this short-story in school and it seriously freaked me out. Since that day, I can’t listen to the sound of a human heartbeat without thinking about it. If you haven’t read it, please do. Even if you aren’t a “reader” (you poor human, you), it’s only around eight-pages long, so you should be able to muscle through it. After all, the menu at the Cheesecake Factory is much longer than that.
Lastly, I hope you and your loved ones have a safe Halloween—may it be filled with fun, good memories and lots of high fructose corn syrup.
(Originally appeared in print in The Patterson Irrigator on October 30, 2015)