Halloween is more than just an opportunity to play ‘Thriller’ on repeat

Halloween is more than just an opportunity to play ‘Thriller’ on repeat

Break out the glow-in-the-dark skeletons and giant inflatable Frankensteins rigged to undulate in time to the “Monster Mash” and don’t take them down until Christmas — it’s Halloween again.

But there’s more to Halloween than satirical plastic gravestones and the faint first inklings of Eggnog Season. For one, it’s a great opportunity to wear all that Star Wars gear you’ve accumulated over the years. Which reminds me: I better take it easy on the Eggnog this season, or I’ll being going as Jabba the Hutt, not just trick-or-treating, but all the time.

This year, Halloween also provides something — ANYTHING — to focus on instead of upcoming midterm elections, if only for one night. And even then, you’re sure to see plenty of Trumps out there. Remember the days when everyone went as Austin Powers? Oh, well, I guess we’re stuck with Dr. Evil … for another two Halloweens — at least.

Of course, Halloween is an extremely old observance, with both Christian and pagan roots. The name, itself, is a contraction of “Hallowed Evening.” This, itself, comes from the Scottish “All Hallows’ Eve,” a phrase first appearing in literature in the mid-16th century.

But many Halloween traditions originated hundreds of years earlier, influenced by folk customs and beliefs of the ancient Celts.

Historians specifically point to the Celtic harvest festival of Samhain, which also happens to be the name of a late-1980s horror rock band fronted by Glenn Danzig. Samhain was pretty good, actually, as far as late-80s horror rock bands go. I mean, they’re no GWAR, but then who is? And if you’ve never heard of GWAR — and chances are, especially if you’re reading this in print, you haven’t — go ahead and enter “GWAR concert” into “the YouTube,” as my mom calls it. You’re in a for a Halloween treat.

Now, in addition to its popularity throughout Ireland and Britain, All Hallows Eve spread across Medieval Europe, especially in France, where many people believed that once a year, on Halloween, the dead would rise to participate in a “danse macabre.” Think Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video, except without John Landis directing.

Although some original colonists brought All Hallow’s Eve to North America, New England Puritans maintained strong opposition to the holiday. Haters. In fact, it wasn’t until mass Irish immigration in the mid-19th century that Halloween became a holiday in the United States. That’s Halloween AND St. Patrick’s Day. Thanks, guys.

Today, Halloween is as American as fun-size Snickers, observed by people of all social, cultural and religious backgrounds. Indeed, Halloween has long since grown into one of those secular holidays where you don’t get any days off work and you have to spend lots of money, like Valentine’s Day or Black Friday, which literally comes up as an official holiday in my Google calendar. And I certainly didn’t put it there.

Obviously, we celebrate Halloween on Oct. 31. But did you know Oct. 31 also happens to be the birthday of Kid Rock, Vanilla Ice and the late John Candy? Can you believe it?! John Candy’s birthday was on Halloween!

Contemporary Halloween activities include trick-or-treating, wishing your kids would tire of trick-or-treating after three punishing hours in sideways Juneau rain, carving jack-o-lanterns, treating your own knife wounds with paper towels and duct tape, attending costume parties, trying not to stare, apple bobbing — lots of germs out there, so you’ll want to be up to date on all your shots — and watching horror movies, although this year I think I’ll just put on some Fox News, instead. Hey-oh!

Interestingly enough, the custom of going house-to-house in costume asking for offerings dates back to the early Middle Ages, as do apple bobbing and jack-o-lanterns, which were originally made from turnips. North American immigrants switched to native pumpkins, which are both larger and softer, and therefore easier to carve. Also, who wants to drink “turnip-spice” anything?

Of course, like all American Holidays, Halloween is synonymous with retail. An estimated 175 million Americans will spend a projected $9 billion this year — more than $3 billion on candy alone. That’s a lot of Skittles. And it’s not just humans anymore, either. In 2018, some 30 million Americans will spend $480 million on Halloween costumes for their pets. Yes, their pets.

To put these numbers in further context: “Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF,” a program providing humanitarian aid to children in developing countries, has raised $118 million … since its inception … in 1952.

So, on that note, Happy Halloween, Juneau. And don’t forget the reason for the season: cramming even more sugar down America’s already overstuffed nougat hole.

• Geoff Kirsch is an award-winning Juneau-based writer and humorist. “Slack Tide” appears every second and fourth Sunday.

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