recess radio program

10/31/03
Halloween History
    by Kevin Shortsleeve

Thousands of years ago, on dark November nights, Druids built bonfires among the moors and windswept hills of the British Isles. On these eerie evenings, the ancient precurser to Halloween, the Celtic God of the Dead, Samhain was said to rise from the underworld, and stalk the countryside with his legions of ghosts and goblins. Cowering in their secluded cottages and hamlets, Celtic men and women fearfully carved gourds into frightful, candle-lit specters, and placed them in windows hopping to deter visits from any of Samhain's subjects. Arm in arm, huddled by the hearth, one can only imagine that - like the modern conception of young couples arm in arm in a darkened theatre watching a horror film - romance was in the air.

For the ancient Romans, for whom the apple was a symbol of love, November 1st marked the Festival of Pomona, Goddess of Orchards. Roman mythology told of the amorous Vertumnus, who - in love with Pomona - disguised himself and whispered devotions in her ear. Then Vertumnus removed his mask, Pomona fell madly in love, and forever after they tended the orchards together.

In Colonial and Victorian America, October 31st was, more than anything else, a night of romance; where corn husking parties and games with apples were eagerly anticipated as one of the rare nights in the year when being flirtatious was acceptable. On this night, divination rituals predicted marriages. If for example, a young lady stood perfectly still before a mirror at midnight on Halloween, the ghostly image of her future husband's face was said appear floating over her shoulder. A poem from 1903:

Took I the mirror then, and crept
Down, down the creaking narrow stair;
The milk-pans caught my candle's flare,
And mice walked soft and spider's slept
I spoke the spell, and stood the magic space,
Dearest - and in the glass I saw your face!

The romance of Halloween has not left our society. Today, Halloween night is one of the most anticipated dating nights on college campuses and in Key West, Florida, Halloween has been renamed the Fantasy Festival. In 1895, Harper's Weekly printed a verse that still stands true today.

No end of schemes were there of old
By which love's tender charms were told;
And still may fairies intervene
To bless the fates of Halloween

Notes:
Arkins, Diane. Halloween: Romantic Art and Customs of Yesteryear, Pelican Publishing, 2000.
Bannatyne, Lesley Pratt. Halloween: An American Holiday, an American History .

Copyright 2003 Kevin Shortsleeve

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