Sexy snow princess?

In the United States, we’ve taken the Hallow out of Halloween, and Americanized a holiday that is rich in history.

Kelsey Kudak

The air smells wonderful when leaves turn brilliant colors during autumn. It seems to evoke a kind of nostalgia for raking leaf piles in the backyard and grass staining your jeans as a kid. As October and its end approach rapidly, the minds of children turn to Halloween and having the coolest costume in the first grade.

But now, most of us are far from 10 years old, and parties involve ping-pong balls rather than the bobbing of apples – especially on Halloween. Not a week from the holiday, Target’s supply of candy is shortening as fast as the skirts on costumes. These mass-marketed guises of polyester have little concern with ghouls, but focus instead on fishnets and cleavage. To say the least, we are defacing an ancient holiday created to respect the deceased.

According to the Library of Congress’ website, Samhain originated in the first century within Celtic tribes. Typically, the Celts lit bonfires on this day to remember and celebrate the dead. They believed that the line between the two worlds, living and dead, was thinnest on the 31st. Souls roamed the countryside and the dangerous ones were warded off with food and drink. Barmbrack, a kind of fruitcake, was eaten and given to all. The cake is still consumed today. The New Year also began on this Pagan holiday.

However, by the first century A.D., the Roman Empire had spread and conquered the Celts. As means of assimilation the Romans adopted some of their Samhain traditions, and the Roman Catholic Church coerced converts by the incorporation of the rituals. Conveniently, Pope Gregory IV created All Saints Day in 835 A.D. – another holiday that juxtaposed Halloween rather nicely.

Certain rituals still exist: England sets out soul cakes for the wandering spirits of the night. Jack o’ lanterns were originally carved from turnips in Scotland, which of course has translated to pumpkins on doorsteps. And, in Ireland today, Halloween is celebrated with a weeklong break from school for children, and a holiday from work the last Monday of the month.

As Irish people immigrated during the potato famine of the 19th century, Halloween was brought to the United States. In the ’50s, the tradition of trick-or-treating became a commercialized event and mass-marketed costumes – originally used by the Celts to disguise against spirits in the first century – were another addition to the tradition.

So there you have it. We have Americanized a Holiday that has roots rich in respect for the deceased and sustenance for journeys. But by Americanized, I mean we have also made it an excuse to get drunk and let our usual clothes fall off on a Wednesday night. Traveling to a party store to buy wrapping paper last week, I was appalled when I saw no costume in the entirety of the place with a skirt past the knees, much less past the high thigh. Variants of the same, “Sexy Police Officer” “Sexy Nurse” “Sexy Bumblebee” were stacked along the wall, and the “Sexy Disney Character of your choiceÖ” trumped all. How does a baby blue bustier and long white stockings translate to Alice in Wonderland? It’s not creative costuming.

The idea that we can put on another identity for an evening is appealing, and as children we mimic our favorite heroes – sports stars, Batman, Barbie, Tinkerbell. But those characters, now, have lost their ideal. There is little purpose to embody them other than to show one’s body.

When juxtaposed with the three-day celebration of Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrated in Spain and South and Central America, our trivial and marketed traditions seem tacky. History.com explains the celebration as an honor to the dead, beginning on Halloween. Families construct altars in their homes to honor relatives, which are then littered with flowers and photographs of those individuals. They eat the favorite foods of the deceased and reminisce. Incense is burned and on the 2nd of November, the families gather to picnic at grave sites.

In Scotland, children go “guising” and perform skits and songs for neighbors. The idea of “trick” is ignored and sweets are passed out as reward. Chairs are placed around a fireside at night in Czechoslovakia, so souls can recline with the family. The tradition of honoring the dead spans past Europe to Japan and China and Sweden and Germany and sweeps to most of the world.

Our Halloween, however, has lost its innocence and its respect to sloppy parties and the bar scene. Unless you are Catholic and All Saints Day is a day of Holy Obligation, our tradition now lacks any kind of reverence or respect as the Celts originally intended for the festival. Perhaps we should heed the guisers of England when they say, “The sky is blue, the grass is green, may we have our Halloween.”

Kelsey Kudak welcomes comments at [email protected]