News and Tribune

October 29, 2013

BEAM: Little house of horrors

By AMANDA BEAM
Local columnist

— A frightening thing happened on the way home from the costume store. While I was fishing around the shopping bag in search of a rather unsightly ghoul’s missing eye, a wad of paper caught my attention. Slowly I began to pull on its corner.

Like a chain of handkerchiefs emerging from Pennywise the Clown’s bloodied sleeve, a barrage of printed white streamer cascaded onto the seat.

That’s when I figured out the meaning of all those prices on the receipt and let forth a bloodcurdling scream.

You can have your haunted houses and ghost tales. To me, nothing is scarier than watching those green bills disappear from your wallet as you prepare your kids for the long-celebrated tradition of Halloween.

According to the National Retail Foundation, Americans will spend close to $7 billion on the ghostly holiday this year. Not too shabby for a festival that only became widespread in our country less than a century ago.

Believe it or not, the first recorded instance of trick-or-treating in North America occurred in 1911 when an Ontario newspaper reported children “guising” for treats. No mentions were made of toilet papering trees or flaming bags of poo.

Obviously, few homeowners took the trick option during those early days.

In all actuality, Halloween sans all the crazy consumerism began long ago. Some trace the holiday’s lineage back 2,000 plus years to the Romans. Others claim the primeval Celts and their Samhain festival served as a basis for the enduring rites.

Even Christians contributed to sustaining this legacy when in 835 Pope Gregory IV switched their All Hallows’ Day to Nov. 1, the same date the British Isles held their Samhain party.

Certain scholars suggest that the church hoped to win over pagans by supplanting their own revelries with a Christian version that also honored the dead. Looks like the switch paid off as these rituals persevered while the Druids and their religion faded into obscurity.

Really, though, much of the customs we Americans now identify with Halloween can be blamed on immigrants; mostly Irish immigrants, to be exact, who brought their old traditions with them as they traveled across the pond in the mid-1800s.

Before their arrival, a preponderance of the earliest Puritans and other settlers scoffed at Hallows’ Eve. Back then, witches were destroyed not given hit musicals. Just ask those poor souls in Salem.

But as luck would have it, our Irish forefathers and mothers scoffed at this Puritan prudishness and introduced their own traditions to their adopted neighborhoods. Would you expect less from a community that still commemorates a saint by drinking green beer?

Take for example, both Scottish and Irish transplants brought their practice of carving vegetables around harvest time to the New World. Back in the old country, turnips were used as a canvas for these engravings. Thank heavens American ingenuity and taste buds intervened, thus allowing the native pumpkin to soon become the primary vessels of choice for slicing and dicing fun.

Immigrant kids around this time also began to wear handmade getups and go door to door in hopes of extorting money or treats from kind neighbors. How they developed these costumes without the modern day witches’ coven commonly called Pinterest is anyone’s guess, but the idea soon spread. In direct correlation, quite a few mothers’ hips likewise began to spread as they secretly snacked on the goods their children gathered.

Flash forward 100 years. You no longer need to be a descendent of leprechaun stalkers to celebrate the holiday. Most all nationalities participate. In fact, 43 percent of respondents in the above NRF survey stating they intended to dress up for either Halloween parties or trick-or-treating. In 2005, the National Confectioners Association reported that 93 percent of children planned to partake in the holiday’s many activities.

All those bundled candy seekers will have plenty of places to find the sweet stuff. Despite what seems like an abundance of darkened porch lights, an astounding 74 percent of households will give treats to our little ghosts and goblins when they come knocking.

Nearly three out of every four that participate will dole out some form of chocolate, while Reese’s Cups reign supreme as the candy most likely to appear in your kids’ plastic pumpkin. At $10 for a couple of pounds, that might cause the dead to rise for real.

Yeah. Yeah. So I do enjoy bemoaning the price of Halloween today. But to see the smiles on my Roman soldier, sparkly skeleton and Grim Reaper’s faces, I suppose when the last werewolf howls it’s quite worth it.

Besides, the real horror will arrive when my husband sees our upcoming heating bill after the furnace mysteriously was turned on. Is there a way to blame that one on the Irish as well?

— Amanda Beam is a Floyd County resident and Jeffersonville native. Contact her by email at adbeam47@aol.com