October 20, 2013

Praise the Gourd

I love the fall, and any opportunity to get into the season gets me excited, so when I saw that my Grandmama had the latest Southern Living magazine, all decked out with pumpkins, fall foliage, and a big "Fall Fun Guide" written across the front, I was all over that. I get a giddy feeling every time I find the newest edition, but this one was special, because when Southern Living starts talking about fall, it means that Halloween is on the way, which serves as a little jet-booster to get us to Thanksgiving and Christmas (and an excuse to eat indecent amounts of candy and pretend to be someone else without getting strange looks). Anyways, as I was flipping through, I came across a little article written by Rick Bragg that I enjoyed and decided to share, along with some fun facts about my third favorite holiday. Have a spook-tacular week!

"I bemoan the day the zombie usurped the pumpkin as the unofficial mascot of Halloween."

Halloween used to be simple. You got a punkin, cut off its top, gouged out its stringy orange insides, and carved a face on it that looked like your brother. But that just wasn’t good enough for some folks.

I realize this may mark me as one of those people who resurface every October, hollering about the perils of Halloween. Not me. I have been quietly celebrating it a long time and have never been moved, no matter how many bushels of candy corn I consumed, to run off and worship the devil. But I fear this holiday has lost its soul.

I blame the zombies.

Don’t pretend you haven’t noticed, what with all their moaning and lurching and…well, I guess moaning and lurching is all they do, if you don’t count standing around looking walleyed and gnashing their bad teeth. You can’t swing a dead black cat this time of year without knocking a few down like bowling pins, which is not hard to do, considering they move at the pace of a box turtle, more nuisance than fright. Anything I can walk briskly away from—and that list gets shorter every year—is unlikely to strike fear in my heart. I figure I should still be able to outsprint a zombie when I am a hundred and fifteen. That is, if they don’t annoy me to death first.

I should not care so deeply about them, but there are so many rubber-legging around these days that they threaten to become the iconic image of my favorite time of year. Halloween has always been, to me, a time to smile at things that frighten us, to watch the night sky for witches but encounter them only as they walk down the street on the way to Ruby Tuesday. I used to be afraid of vampires, but how can you fear one 3 feet tall, squinting in my porch light, trying not to swallow his drugstore fangs when his mama smacks him upside the head for forgetting to say “thank you” for the Sugar Babies?

Mostly I love Halloween because it is the orange-and-black beginning of a season that tumbles into Thanksgiving, which tumbles into Christmas. And zombies just seem a little out of place in that. Thanksgiving should have nothing to do with armies of the shuffling undead. Don’t get me started on Christmas. The only undead at Christmas should be Jacob Marley, wailing about greed.

The iconic image of Halloween should be, as God intended, the punkin. The punkin, carved into faces that are scary only because we want them to be, winking from every front porch. The punkin, cast in plastic, swinging from the hands of knee-high princesses, leering back from department store shelves, until it gives way to tins of butter cookies.

But I fear for the punkin. How long before he is kicked down the street by zombie hordes, booted into obscurity? Young people tell me that no one—no one—wants to dress up like a punkin anymore. All a punkin does, they say, is sit there, and glow.

This may be true, all of it, but try to make a pie out of a zombie and see where that gets you.

Fun Facts About Halloween:

1. The first Jack O'Lanterns were made from turnips.

2. The word "witch" comes from the Old English wicce, meaning "wise woman." In fact, wiccan were highly respected people at one time. According to popular belief, witches held one of their two main meetings, or sabbats, on Halloween night.

3. Samhainophobia is the fear of Halloween.

4. The owl is a popular Halloween image. In Medieval Europe, owls were thought to be witches, and to hear an owl's call meant someone was about to die.

5. According to Irish Legend, Jack O'Lanterns were named after a stingy man named Jack who, because he tricked the devil several times, was forbidden entrance to both Heaven and Hell. He was condemned to wander the Earth, waving his lantern to lead people away from ther paths.

6. The largest pumpkin ever measured was grown by Norm Craven, who broke the world record in 1993 with an 836 pound pumpkin.

7. Stephen Clarke holds the record for the world's fastest pumpkin carving time: 24.03 seconds, smashing his previous record of 54.72 seconds. The rules of the competition state that the pumpkin must weigh less than 24 pounds and be carved in a traditional way, which requires at least eyes, nose, ears, and a mouth

8. Trick-or-treating evolved from the ancient Celtic tradition of putting out treats and food to placate spirits who roamed the streets at Samhain, a sacred festival that marked the end of the Celtic calendar year.

9. “Souling” is a medieval Christian precursor to modern-day trick-or-treating. On Hallowmas (November 1), the poor would go door-to-door offering prayers for the dead in exchange for soul cakes.

10. “Halloween” is short for “Hallows’ Eve” or “Hallows’ Evening,” which was the evening before All Hallows’ (sanctified or holy) Day or Hallowmas on November 1. In an effort to convert pagans, the Christian church decided that Hallowmas or All Saints’ Day (November 1) and All Souls’ Day (November 2) should assimilate sacred pagan holidays that fell on or around October 31.

11. Ireland is typically believed to be the birthplace of Halloween.

12. Dressing up as ghouls and other spooks originated from the ancient Celtic tradition of townspeople disguising themselves as demons and spirits. The Celts believed that disguising themselves this way would allow them to escape the notice of the real spirits wandering the streets during Samhain.

13. Comedian Lewis Black has a theory about candy corn: "All the candy corn that was ever made was made in 1914. They never had to make it again. We never eat enough of it. We only eat two or three or four pieces apiece. So, literally, after Halloween the candy corn companies send out their minions. And they go from garbage can to garbage can and collect the corn and throw it back in the bags. And it appears next year."

(All credit goes to Rick Bragg, Southern Living, Mindfloss, and Random Facts.)

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