Saturday, October 27, 2007


To nobody's surprise Halloween is now steeped in the muck and mire of witches, ghosts and evil goblins far from the reality of the origins of the Celtic festival of Samhain to Old Hallow’s Eve or even the modern Mexican Day of The Dead (El Dia de los Muertos).

I just saw a story on NBC where one American homeowner has amassed an army of ghoulish creatures that include animated skeletons - some of whom puke green slime - all encamped in front of his house which is fully covered with Halloween ornamentation. He conservatively estimated that his investment was easily in the six figures. Yikes! All this punctuates that Halloween is mostly a commercial event second only to Christmas in dollars spent for decorations.

For most Americans the Halloween season sparks a renewed interest in all things macabre and finds such classic horror movie hits as Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolf Man and more modern offerings like Rosemary's Baby, Night of the Living Dead, The Omen, Poltergeist, Friday the 13th, Freddy vs. Jason, Carrie, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Halloween, and a multitude of other horror flicks seasonally replayed with the intent to induce cardiac arrest or at the least a good strong A fib or PVC.

But, is that what Halloween is all about? Absolutely Not. Once again, we don’t have it right. Like all other major holidays Halloween is the modern product of the Christian Church (blame the Catholics) and marketers who have seemingly built our national persona on the back of this holiday and other legends and lore in the pursuit of the almighty dollar. Ca-Ching!

The reality is that the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced Sow-Wayne) was not a ghoulish god of the dead, rather a celebration of the end of summer – a joyous harvest festival – that marked the end of the old year and start of a new one. With the premeditated help of the brand-spanking-new Christian church and conservative Christians, then and now, Samhain has been perverted for most into a “fearsome night, a dreaded night, a night in which great bonfires were lit to Samana the Lord of Death.“ Aside from the fact that no such god existed and that most of our “modern” ghouls and goblins and all “wicked spirits” have evolved from this well-planned rewriting of history, it appears that the modern conception of Halloween has become de rigueur, manna to modern commercial marketing pros – pass the corn candy, please.

The Church, intent on eliminating any trace of old Druidic customs and anything Pagan, embraced Samhain. But they turned it one-hundred and eighty degrees off center and introduced the then foreign concept of the devil – that they would be protected from him by embracing Christianity? They forever robbed their mostly uncooperative parishioners of their innocence and set the stage for the modern church celebrations of All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints Day and All Souls’ Day. These celebrations were eventually merged in many cultures because of their close proximity and Halloween became a festival of Christian dead.

With the Christian concept of The Devil and the “Jesus-is-Savior" assurances that Wicca worships the devil (though they don’t even recognize any such entity) and the contemporary recognition by many conservative Christians who would have you believe that Harry Potter, the Teletubbies and PBS’s Barney the Dragon are all personifications of the devil, the absolute reality of evil spirits and you have the recipe for our modern American Halloween tradition. Aside from cute little youngsters in Bunny and Captain Jack Sparrow costumes trick or treating with their parents, there seems little redeeming grace in this festival.

On an upwardly positive note the Mexican Day of the Dead which saw its origins over 4000 years ago when the ancient Olmecs and later Aztecs remembered and annually revered their dead is worthy of our note. The Catholic Church came along and like the above chronology, tried to pervert that celebration. It would appear that the church was far less successful with our Mesoamerican Brothers and Sisters for the Day of the Dead remains a healthy, respectful celebration that memorializes and welcomes the souls of the dead back to an earthly plane where for a brief time they can once again enjoy the pleasures of the living. The Day of the Dead which lasts up to three weeks is not a scary time, rather a Family-centered celebration that replaces the sorrow of death with a vibrant festival of life.

Those with ulterior agendas proclaim that the food offered by Mexican families to their dead during this celebration is an attempt to placate or bribe them when in fact; they are literally feeding their loved ones while they are back among us. The living offer bread, sugar (sugar skull, anyone?) and even booze for the adults. They bring toys for the children and decorate their graves with orange marigolds in order to attract their departed loved ones. This is certainly an appropriate festival that celebrates Family and puts death in its proper perspective.

Another group of folks who have this day in perspective includes the recruiting Employees of a well known Texas company (where I recently did some recruiting) who used the holiday to positively enhance their Employee morale and team building efforts. A pumpkin decorating contest and other games with prizes, gifts, kudos by management and an impressive lunch catered by the Employees and company well-served their organization. Well done!

While I probably won’t be trick or treating this year I will be monitoring the front door though only after I have mixed up my favorite Dia de los Muertos beverage - a Margarita anjeo. Later, I intend to curl up in my favorite chair and read Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and then Tam O’Shanter by Scottish Poet Laureate Robert Burns all the while eating some candy corn.

Thanks, Aye

Ned Buxton

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