They’re all together ooky…

Two thousand years ago, in the land of the Celts, life was hard — a short, dirty brutal existence. But it was never so hard as during the long, harsh winters. Every year, when summer waned and the harvest had been brought in, the cold dark months inexorably slid in.

It was a time that struck fear into the hearts of men and women; young and old, because they knew many of them would not survive the days ahead. With a life expectancy of 7,000 days – less than 20 years — the beginning of winter held a special, though frightening place in their lives. Optimistically, this is when they celebrated the new year.

They built huge sacred bonfires in which they sacrificed part of their harvest and livestock in hopes that the Celtic deities would look favorably upon them and help them not join their dead ancestors too soon. The Celts wore costumes of animal heads and skins during this celebration. Their fires also helped light the way for the spirits of the dead. The Druids, or Celtic priests would gather by the fires and, with the help of the spirits of the dead (who were particularly present at this time of year) they made predictions about the future. They called this new year Samhain.

Eventually, Christians conquered the land of the Celts, but found it extremely difficult to convert these pagans and get them to give up their beliefs and customs, so they wisely melded their customs with their own. So, instead of simply outlawing Samhain, the pope in the 800s re-named it All Hallow Mass, meaning All Saints Day, to honour saints and martyrs. The night before he kept as a day to honour the dead, called All Hallows Eve.

All Hallows Eve continued to be celebrated with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels, and devils. As time went on, people immigrated to American and brought their own version of this celebration with them. The rest is history.

Halloween – what’s not to love? There’s something mystical and magical about putting on a costume and interacting with people in costume. It’s so deliciously disorienting to see people you know well, transformed inside and out. In a costume, you’re not entirely yourself. Or maybe you’re more yourself than you usually allow yourself to be?

Those who still dabble in the dark arts believe that the costume we choose on Halloween says something important about who we believe ourselves to be or who we wish ourselves to be. They believe that donning this costume on the night before the new year, on the night of Samhain, will help us grow into the person we want to be in the year ahead.

Mysterious and Spooky!

Some suggest, more prosaically that you choose for your Halloween costume something you really wish you could wear all the time. Hence the popularity of “sexy” costumes for women and “women” costumes for men.

What do you think? Do you dress up for Halloween? Do you have a great costume lined up for Saturday?


One of the first Halloweeners – the mummified remains of an Iron Age Celt found in a peat bog in Cheshire in August of 1984. His skull was fractured, he’d been strangled and his throat had been cut. (Creepy AND Kooky)

26 responses to “They’re all together ooky…

  1. I’m doing Halloween on Friday night and Saturday afternoon. Here in Korea, it’s a non event. But as a foreign teacher, teaching English at a university we try to have some cultural events to give students a taste of what they only get to see on tv and in the movies.

    Anyhow there’ll be a mix of university students, foreign staff and their children. it was a big success last year and I’m sure this year will be even better. I picked up a Darth Vader costume on ebay and my kids will be going as superman and a giant pumpkin.

    On Saturday one of my friends is organizing a big halloween party for all the foreign families with kids he knows and we’ll be going to that as well. Should be a ton of fun with some great pictures to come – will post them on my blog as well.

    Only 1 year, 8 months and 6 days until I return to Canada.

  2. i haven’t dressed up for years, but i loooovvvvee getting the girls ready for halloween. i remember my dad used to turn into a kid at halloween when getting my costume organized – he put so much time and effort into it – i wonder if he was living vicariously through me?

  3. I LOVE Halloween and dressing up, but will probably just be staying at home this year watching horror movies and giving out candy to trick-or-treaters. That is unless I eat all the candy myself before the big night, in which case toothpaste and pennies for everyone!. 😉

  4. bonfires in which they sacrificed part of their harvest and livestock in hopes that the Celtic deities would look favorably upon them and help them not join their dead ancestors too soon.

    I can’t help but think if they’d kept their harvest and livestock for the winter months, less of them might have died…

    I haven’t done the halloween thing in years. We always used to have a blow out open party on halloween, at one point I counted 85 people in the house – half of whom I didn’t even know. Only thing: you had to be in costume. Those were great parties.

    At one point, we were just back from Nepal and totally zonked out on Halloween so we didn’t do the party, and no one stepped in. We weren’t around the next year either and that sorta killed the tradition… Too bad.

  5. Sean – It’s funny how Halloween is slowly making it’s way around the world. It’s really only a long-term tradition in North America, but other countries have recently started doing Halloween — in a half-hearted, not-really-getting-it kind of way. Enjoy your Korean Halloween!

    Meanie – You don’t dress up to dish out candy or take the kids out? I never went out for Halloween when I was a kid because we lived out in the country and my parents (being foreigners) wouldn’t drive me around. So, I made up for it when I had a kid. I’d always get dressed up with her and take her and her friends around the neighbourhood — until she was old enough and didn’t want me along. Good time.

    Hannah – You should always buy twice as much candy as you think you’re going to need. That way there’s plenty for you AND for the kids. It’s very, very small candy afterall, so you need much more of it.

    Jazz – Party traditions can be revived pretty easily, you know. Maybe next year? It’s hooooowwwwling good fun.

  6. “Some suggest, more prosaically that you choose for your Halloween costume something you really wish you could wear all the time.”

    Gee, that’s disturbing – I plan on painting my head white, plunk a garbage can lid on top and step into a big garbage bag… white trash, get it?

  7. I loved making my kids costumes and doing them for the grandkid – this year I have opted out and she has a bought costume that she and her mother chose. Slinky witch. Very cool.
    What fascinates me is the growth of fancy decorations for homes at Halloween; it’s a long way from the modest pumpkin on the porch of my youth.
    The debate on why the bog mummies were killed is fascinating – sacrifice? criminal? done by the community or private murder done by an individual. I find the way the peat has preserved them to be horribly creepy, much more so than the mummies of ancient Egypt. However, they are not nearly as creepy as the masks of current politicians – the first one I ever saw was of Trudeau and it grossed me out completely.
    I have already pried open the end of one box of chocolate bars. Mea culpa.

  8. I love Halloween. I remember as a kid the excitement of being outside at night and everything looking so mysterious and not being able to tell who anyone was. It was magical. So, I’ll be leaving a bowl of treats out on the front steps and I’ll put on my witch’s hat with the long green hair and take the girls (Leah the werewolf and Rachel as Hermione Granger) all around the neighbourhood. I can’t wait.

  9. Whenever I see this kind of thing (the mummy with his throat cut and bashed skull) I wonder about the night the person died. Did he wake up knowing this was his last day, maybe a fight to the death? What happened? Did he die thinking “boy, I wish I hadn’t said that” or “maybe Grethel wasn’t really worth dying for”?

  10. The psychology of your Halloween costume? Fascinating! I’ve been an alien, a lumberjack, Dolly Parton, a belly dancer, Cinderella, a punk rocker, a gypsy, Tanya Harding, Tina Turner and The Cat in The Hat. I can read something into all of those. For instance, I went as the punk rocker when I was a young married housewife with a small child. How obvious is that? As for being Dorothy Gale this year, I think every little girl dreams of that and besides, I’ve wanted a pair of ruby slippers all of my life.

  11. P.S. You made me think about something (once again) that might get me out of a jam with a blog post. I’m stealing this image for a blog post. I hope this image is not meaningful to you.

  12. Trashee – I ain’t sayin’ nuthin’

    Mary – I remember a lot of well-decorated homes back in the day, too, but they were done up with home-made stuff – scarecrows, graves in the front yard made of leaves that someone would jump out of, creepy lights, costumed hosts, creepy music. Now everything is store bought and not nearly as scary. I love it when everyone gets into the spirit of the night!! And the debate on the mummies – they think this one was a sacrifice, but it seems like a lot of bashing and slicing and strangling for a sacrifice – you’d think the least they could do was make it clean and quick. There’s also a lot of research done on this particular mummy’s grooming. He’s apparently wearing some kind of hair gel and other stuff they found on him which makes them think he was upper class. Just as dead as if he’d been poor, though.

    Cedar – Are you really? That will be hilarious. Will you be dragging your 18 kids along with you?

    Lebowski – A big stretch for you, too, then!

    Alison – Ya, handing out the treats is sort of fun, but running around the neighbourhood dressed up in the dark is waaaaaaay more fun. I hope you’re going to post some photos of the you and the kids in your gear.

    LoLa – I wonder if they had the same attitude toward life and death as we do considering life was pretty fleeting back then and that people died all the time and that you only had a 50/50 chance of even being born and living past your first day. And human sacrifices were still in vogue. And killing a lot. (The image of the bog man you mean? I stole it off the internet that’s all the meaning it has for me)

    Geewits – It’s interesting isn’t it? For anyone that puts even a little thought into their costume, it must be representative of something. You’ve got quite a variety of themes at different stages of your life. The lumberjack seems like the least happy. Will we get photos of you in the full Dorothy?

  13. Maybe so. Human sacrifice…jeez. I know some humans I wouldn’t mind sacrificing.

    (I was teasing you about the bog man image.)

  14. I hate to correct you, XUP, but Halloween is also a very long-standing tradition here in Scotland. We dressed up and went out as children, only back then it wasn’t called trick or treat (drat you pesky north americans!), it was called “guising”. When you knocked at your neighbour’s door, you didn’t just shout “Trick or treat” and expect sweets, you had to perform a party piece – a song, a joke or a poem. The local kids round here still all write a song and perform a sort of group dance on the doorstep – really cool!
    Oh, and we didn’t have pumpkin lanterns (when I was a kid, I had never seen a pumpkin in the flesh). No, we made our jack o’ lanterns out of turnips. Just pause for a moment and imagine how long it takes to carve out a turnip. No wonder we embraced the pumpkin as soon as they were available!

  15. “Some suggest, more prosaically that you choose for your Halloween costume something you really wish you could wear all the time.”

    This is perhaps why I hate dressing up for Halloween: I’m perfectly content in my own skin!

  16. Before I was married, I dressed up as Columbia from “Rocky Horror”, complete with gold top hat I made myself (of course). It was the sexy costume. Now, I am looking for something warmer that I can wear to match/compliment my husband and want to find two literary characters that have great costumes but who aren’t totally obvious. I would even go with movie characters but they have to be something different (not Luke and Leia, heaven forfend). I am obviously not thinking of this seriously or I would have come up with something by now. The other day, we were watching “Aliens” (again) and I said, “we could be Ripley and Hicks” but their clothes aren’t really costumes. I had thought of Van Eyck’s “Arnolfini Wedding” because those outfits are warm but no one would get it except another art history major.
    And I don’t think my DH would wear that hat.

  17. LoLa – You shouldn’t say things like that in a public forum.. you know…in case something bad suddenly befalls your enemies.

    Loth – I remember reading something about turnip carving once I thought, “WTF?? How do you carve a turnip???” I can barely peel and cut them into usable chunks. Anyway, I sort of assumed that Celtic people still carried on something of the Samhain tradition. Do they do this sort of thing in Ireland, too? How about England?

    Dave – You are a party pooper. Not dressing up. Bah.

    Julia – It’s not too late!! How about something from a Jane Austen novel. They had very cute costumes. Mary and Percy Shelley? And no one else HAS to “get” your costume; they’ll just love you in it!

  18. The last time I tried to “do” anything for Halloween, I tried to commune by myself with the spirits on top of the hill of the burial grounds at my parents’ old house. Scared the living shit out of myself when I heard rustling in the bushes and on the beach and suddenly remembered that there were bears and coyotes and other living critters in the area.

    The last Halloween my sister and I dressed up as kids we both went as hobos, wearing my Dad’s clothes and carrying a milk jug filled with apple juice with XXX on the side. Got yelled at at several houses for being too old to be trick or treating and how dare we be going around near the kids with beer. (I was 11 or 12, but a tall 11 or 12.) Haven’t dressed up as an adult in about 10 years (generally never decided what to be until the last minute so I usually ended up being a bum, a hooker, or a gypsy fortune teller), but I love seeing everyone else get all done up.

  19. Actually, I kind of want people to work at it (thinking ahead to your next post perhaps). I don’t want it to be obvious. And I think there have been so many Jane Austen movies of late, where all the chicks wear those high waisted dresses, that every one would get it. No, one day it will occur to me. I just have to work at it a little. Maybe next year!

  20. Louise – Do you get lots of kids to your house? Do you decorate?

    Geewits – Hmmmm. Interesting

    Julia – Ah, you’re going for the cerebral Halloween as opposed to the crazy or scary or sexy Halloween. OK

  21. i am a big fan of the halloween but the past couple of years not so much. i didn’t even pull one decoration out this year and i have TONS of halloween stuff.

    as it would turn out it rained tonight so the boy couldn’t even go trick or treating. i asked him if he was ok with it, that i would brace the rain with him and he just wanted to stay home.

    elvira is my favorite halloween costume.

  22. Savanvleck – Creepy isn’t it?

    Leah – Aw, that’s too bad. I think it stopped raining here long enough for the kids to go out.