TRUMPKINS AND OTHER HALLOWEEN HISTORY

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

gotAs if we don’t have enough to worry about right now, I’ve discovered whole websites devoted to “Trumpkins” – pumpkins carved out to look like Trump.  There are also some of Hillary called “Clinkins” but that doesn’t seem to have the same ring.  Frankly, I don’t really know how this whole pumpkin-carving thing started, or even that much about Halloween.  My knowledge on the subject is limited to costumes and Snickers bars.  Lots of Snickers bars.  I’ve been giving Halloween some thought this year because I’ve seen more advertisements for adult costumes and celebrations than ever before.  My assumption was that millennials have popularized the holiday by coming out of their parents’ basements to party with others of their generation.  That young adults have discarded their pajama bottoms in favor of dressing up as Steve Jobs or a Game of Thrones character, and in the process, have stolen Halloween from the kids.  As usual, my assumptions were all wrong.  So I quit looking at all of the Trumpkins on the internet and did a little research.  Turns out that Halloween started as an adult celebration and was then highjacked by kids.  Specifically, the Baby Boomers.  Yes, yet another thing we can chalk up to our overwhelming numbers and our parents desire to make us happy.  But let me start at the beginning.

 

samain

Halloween is thought to have originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, a celebration that took place on November 1, which was the Celtic new year.  People would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts.   And, knowing my Celtic ancestors, I’m guessing that quite a few of the celebrants were lit too.  By 43 A. D. the Romans had conquered most of the Celtic territory and thus brought their own religious and cultural celebrations to the region, which resulted in a whole lot of observances – Feast Days, All Martyrs Days, All Saint’s Days, Days to Honor the Dead.  You get the idea.  In the eighth century Pope Gregory III, no doubt exhausted from having to oversee so many observances, consolidated the traditional Celtic and Roman holidays to one single day – November 1, known as All Saints Day.  Pope Gregory III knew how to cut through bureaucracy – we could use him around today. In any event, the night before became All Hallows Eve, eventually shortened to Halloween.

Fast forward a few hundred years when Halloween came to America.  It was not a holiday celebrated by the stuffy, dour  New England Protestants (again, our ancestors so I can say that) but caught on with newer immigrants to the southern colonies.  The first celebrations included “play parties,” public events held to celebrate the harvest, where neighbors would share stories of the dead, tell each other’s fortunes, dance and sing. Colonial Halloween festivities also featured the telling of ghost stories and mischief-making of all kinds.  Sounds like they really knew how to par-tay.  In the second half of the 19th century, with the huge influx of immigrants from Ireland, Halloween was introduced to virtually every region of the U.S.  Americans began to dress up in costumes and go house to house asking for food or money, a practice that eventually became today’s “trick-or-treat” tradition.  And thus the tradition continued as a community celebration, primarily for adults, until the latter part of the twentieth century.  In the 1950’s, with so many adorable children bursting on the scene, Halloween was given over to children, with the focus on children’s events at school and calculated forays into neighborhoods where they gave out good (e.g. chocolate) vs. bad (suckers) candy.

pumpkin-dogSo, why are we seeing such an uptick in adult Halloween celebrations?  There are lots of theories and not a lot of definitive answers.  I think it’s mostly because people like to have fun and dressing up on Halloween and partying with friends is a good way to forget that your boss is a jerk and your mother-in-law is coming for Thanksgiving.  Whatever the reason, according to Forbes, Americans now spend $7 BILLION on decorations, costumes, cards, candy and pets.  Yes, pets.  We spend $1.22B on adult costumes, $1.04B on children’s costumes, and more than $370M on doodads for our dogs and cats.  I found that hard to believe but then a quick Google search convinced me that this pet-dressing phenomenon is quite real.  While many of the pictures made me smile (there are definitely pet owners who are spending too much time on Pinterest) I noticed that none of the pets looked too happy garbed up as a fairy princess or bumble bee.  Offhand I’d say that we’d be much better off donating that $370M to animal shelters.  But then again sometimes I’m just a buzzkill.

 

Speaking of which, my brother found an interesting article about the sale of Presidential candidate costumes in an election year.  Turns out that dating back to Richard Nixon’s presidential run, the candidate’s whose Halloween mask sells the most is far more likely to win the election.  This year,  the Trump mask is outselling the Clinton mask by 7%.  I’m not sure that’s really indicative of this year’s election.  I suspect the sales numbers reflect the fact that it’s just more fun to wear a clump of orange hair than a boxy pantsuit.

 

clinton-pumpkin trumpkin

The Holiday ‘Season’ Schedule

by Bob Sparrow

onions2

Creamed Onions – YUCK!

When I was growing up, back when the earth was still cooling, there was no such thing as a ‘Holiday Season’ – there was Christmas. Thanksgiving was when Jack, Suz and I, had to get ‘slicked up’ and go to our aunt and uncle’s house and eat creamed onions and turkey that was cut so thin that it only had one side. New Year’s was a non-event that meant Christmas vacation was nearly over and we’d soon be headed back to school.

Things have changed a bit since then; with the coming of television, the ‘Christmas Season’ was created and subsequently commercialized.  More recently, with the advent of political correctness, the ‘Holiday Season’ was born, to make sure we weren’t excluding anyone from the season’s buying bonanza.

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Unoffensive holiday symbols

  The way I see it, it’s a five-game ‘season’ where first, everyone gets on their game uniform for the ‘kick off’ at Halloween, followed by Veteran’s Day (which apparently is a non-league game), then into the meat of the schedule with Thanksgiving and Christmas and concluding with the ‘finals’ on New Year’s Eve.

So let’s look at the ‘season’, game-by-game.

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Cheery Halloween mask

Halloween

How it started: It was originally an ancient Celtic religious celebration where they would bless and convert Pagans.

What happened? We took the religion out of it and now we just try to scare the bejesus out of kids with ugly masks and scary movies, while we bless and convert non-diabetics to diabetics with a sugar over-load. The American Dental Association also thanks you!

Veteran’s Day

vets

AMEN!

How it started: In 1919 Armistice Day was created marking the end of World War I on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour. In 1938 Armistice Day was declared a legal holiday and in 1945 it was changed to Veteran’s Day to recognize and celebrate all veterans.

What happened? Years ago Veteran’s Day was just a scrimmage, but fortunately, it’s become a little more celebrated in recent years, possibly due to the numerous conflicts we’ve put our brave men and women in armed forces through, but it’s still no Halloween! Personally, I’d eliminate Halloween and put greater emphasis on this holiday by having kids dress up like veterans and seek out service families and veterans to ask if they can help them in any way. Schools could ask their students to write a letter to someone in the armed forces to thank them for their service, but don’t count on it replacing the sanctity of Halloween anytime soon.

Thanksgiving

Tday

“Sorry about taking your land”

How it started: The Pilgrims wanted to celebrate a bumper crop year as well as show their benevolence toward the Native Americans, specifically the Wampanoag tribe, by inviting them to a feast and tossing them a drumstick after they vanquished them and took their land. OK, maybe they didn’t just take it; they did give them $24 worth of beads and trinkets for Manhattan. Subsequently the Wampanoag tribe suffered an epidemic, thought to be smallpox brought over by the English, which helped them establish their settlements. Years later, the King Philip’s War resulted in the deaths of 40 percent of the tribe. Most of the male survivors were sold into slavery in the West Indies, while many women and children were enslaved in New England.

What happened? Well, wouldn’t you continue to celebrate such a joyous occasion? We do, with a feast of turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce and pies of various fruits and nuts on Thursday and when the ladies realized that the men were spending the rest of the weekend watching football, they said, “Ladies let’s go shopping!” and thus ‘Black Friday’ was created. But even with its calorie-busting meals, football overload and guerilla combat shopping, Thanksgiving still has the redeeming quality of bringing families together – and that’s a good thing!

Christmas

Xmas

Remember Christmas?

How it started: The first recorded date of Christmas was in 336 AD (No, I wasn’t there!); a few years later, Pope Julius I officially declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on the December 25th.  Although with shepherds in their fields at the time of the birth, it probably wasn’t in the winter at all.

What happened? Because this is the big cash cow of the season, the decorations and carols start in late October and continues through New Year’s Eve and beyond; it’s the ‘Big Game’. Yes, it’s been commercialized almost beyond recognition, but if you work at it, you can still find or better yet, create the ‘spirit of Christmas’, by helping those less fortunate or just experiencing a young child’s unbridled enthusiasm when they see that Santa hasn’t forgotten them. So work at finding the ‘spirit’ this year, as Vince Lombardi once said, “Giving isn’t everything, it’s the only thing!”  OK, maybe I made that up.

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When do you want the new year to start?


New Year’s Eve

How it started: The year had to end sometime!

What happened? When the year really ends is a long story involving various calendars, but suffice it to say that historically a bunch of politicians and church folks have moved the start of the year around since the beginning of time, mostly just to suit their purposes. So don’t get too fixated on December 31st as the end of the year, it was originally the vernal equinox (around the end of March) and it could go back there if it will make someone some money or get someone elected.  No matter what the date, it’s always the time of year when we lie to ourselves about improving our lives ‘next year’ with some unrealistic resolutions.

This Thursday will mark the halfway point in the season, so relax and enjoy the ‘halftime show’ – it’s usually at the ‘kid’s table’.

Happy Thanksgiving!

HOLLOW HALLOWEEN

An opinion…by Suzanne Watson

I read the other day that Americans will spend $6.9 billion on Halloween this year, more than any other holiday except Christmas.  The head of the National Retail Association says that Halloween is now a “season”.  I guess I should have known that, what with all the paraphernalia that is evident everywhere from the grocery store to Ace Hardware.  But when did this happen?  When did Halloween turn into something that – like Christmas – the retailers have taken over and completely exploited?

At the risk of sounding like Andy Rooney, it seems like Halloween has gotten much too complicated.  When I was a kid Halloween was simple.  Costumes were cobbled together from things found around the house – a sheet with holes in it for a ghost or towels pinned around the neck for a Superman cape.  If one was really lucky you had a grandparent with a glass eye so you could borrow their patch for a pirate costume.  The occasional kid bought a plastic mask at the five and dime but that was thought to be phony and close to cheating.  The fun of Halloween was using our imagination to come up with the cleverest costume.  We proudly marched in our school parades and vied for the prize for best costume.   Yep – they gave out one award.  We didn’t get a ribbon just for participating.

On Halloween night, we were let loose in the neighborhoods near us with a battle plan that would have done justice to an Army general.  We plotted out which houses to avoid – those that gave out hard candy or fruit – and which to hit first.  The lady around the corner was always our starting point because she made delicious popcorn balls.  Then we progressed to the homes that dished out candied apples, divinity, brownies, and fudge.  We never gave a thought about eating food that had been prepared by someone we didn’t really know.  It was all home-made, lovingly wrapped up in waxed paper or aluminum foil, and it was scrumptious.

These days Halloween has turned into an extravaganza – or in the words of the retailers – a “season”.  At my local Target the part of the store that hasn’t already been turned into a Christmas wonderland is dedicated to over-the-top Halloween displays.  And our Hallmark store is a complete freak show.   There are strings of lights to put on the house, special Halloween gift bags and toys, a Pin the Tail on the Cat game and aisle after aisle of decorations and party favors.

According to the article, adults are increasingly participating in this holiday that was once the domain of children.  I suppose we should have seen this coming.  People are in need of an escape these days and what better way to suppress your anger about your 401K than to dress up like one of the Angry Birds?  Still, it seems like this should be a holiday for children, not another excuse for mom and dad to dress up like fools (we still have New Year’s Eve for that).

But the real change is that so many kids no longer trick-or-treat.  Now the trend is to have home parties.    I know that there are more risks today and that the world is full of scary people, but I still find it sad that kids miss the fun of going house to house.  Because no matter how great the favors are from Target, it can’t be as much fun as plotting routes, knocking on strangers’ doors and being rewarded with popcorn balls.

Selfishly, I miss seeing the kids come around each year.  I miss asking them about their costumes and providing the appropriate response when they twirl in their princess dress or growl in their werewolf mask.  I still buy Snickers bars each Halloween in hopes that someone will come by, but inevitably they end up in my freezer.  Eventually my husband and I eat them and I end up doing extra time at the gym.  Halloween – and my metabolism – are both different these days.