Wednesday, December 12, 2012


We have just endured another October where the candy companies entice us to make the dentists rich, and where everyone talks about the pagan roots of the celebration.  Because of my mother’s birthday, Norma was born on October 31, 1910, I have always had things to consider on that day other than the public celebration.

All Hallows’ Eve

While it seems that every society has its version of the “Harvest Festival,” and they are well-documented from pagan and Roman times, this holiday has a history that isn’t a straight line. 

The name, All Hallows’ Eve literally means “the night before All Hallows Day or All Saints Day,” which is November 1 with All Souls’ Day celebrated on November 2.  The early Christians believed that souls wandered in purgatory until these dates when they got their last chance to enter heaven.  It was the responsibility of the living to pray for their souls, and they wore masks and costumes to disguise themselves from the souls who got their last chance to get back at living people who had wronged them in life.

Now comes the good part.  The part that means something to me, personally.  We did not celebrate Halloween although there was always a little party at our one-room school.  Some background and I will ask that you bear with me a bit on this journey:

1.    On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted his ninety-five theses on the door of the church.  These theses, Luther was a priest and scholar, condemned the Church for corruption and, specifically, for granting “indulgences” to parishioners who paid money to the priests.

2.    The ensuing “Reformation” created another opportunity for people to kill people in the name of religion, but it also established a line where the new “Protestants” protested the celebration of Halloween as “papist” because purgatory was an invention of the Pope and another way to extort money from their parishes (see “indulgences”).

3.    Most of the early settlers to the US were Protestants, and they were not interested in “religious freedom,” unless it meant that they had the freedom and everyone else did not!  So, you were not exactly “free” to celebrate Halloween because it was either pagan or papist, take your choice, and in the world of religion, there is always a reason to persecute or kill the other guy.

4.    There is virtually no reference in US almanacs from the 17th and 18th centuries that note Halloween.

5.    The Lutheran church, and my mother, were big fans of November 1, All Saints Day, as were Roman Catholics, but I seem to remember that she referred to the date by another name…which I can’t find.  Anyway, when I was growing up, it was celebrated on November 1, but today it is moved to the Sunday around November 1. 

6.    Back then, there was a movement to celebrate Reformation Day on October 31, but it never caught on but is still on the Lutheran calendar.

7.    With the immigration wave from Italy and Ireland, large settlements of Roman Catholics were formed in the cities, and their tradition of Halloween started to be popular in the early 20th century.

8.    Here’s the personal part:  I remember only one neighborhood trick or treat time, when I was in kindergarten.  I know it was then because our school house blew up in a propane gas explosion the day before I was to start school (1950), and I attended school that year in a vacant house.  A school mate that year was a boy who was a little older, an Italian from Cleveland whose parents moved to the farm with lofty ideals, little idea of what to do, and tried to operate a dairy farm.  They found grinding hard work, cows that got sick and quickly moved back to Cleveland…along with their ideas of trick or treating.  To get from one farm to the other (they had been warned) we hopped in a farm truck.

9.   And another personal part: October 31 is when Linda and her brother landed in the United States from Korea. A very special day.

It is logical that I would remember my mother around her birthday and that this day would have a special meaning to me. I am not going to speculate on the logic of writing this personal stuff and expecting my kids to read it, but there you are.

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