Monday, October 31, 2005

Pagans, Irish Catholics, Puritans & Victorians - History of Halloween

This is an intriguing Halloween read, from The Writers' Almanac by Garrison Keillor.
Today is Halloween, one of the oldest holidays in the Western European tradition.

Today, 70 percent of American households will open their doors and offer candy to strangers, most of them children; 50 percent of Americans will take photographs of family or friends in costume; and the nation as a whole will spend more than six billion dollars. In terms of dollars spent, it is the second most popular holiday of the year in this country, after Christmas.

For the Celtic people of Northeastern Europe, November 1st was New Year's Day, and October 31 was the last night of the year. Celts believed it was the night that spirits, ghosts, fairies and goblins freely walked the earth. Archaeologists aren't entirely sure what all the traditions were, but they believe the holiday involved bonfires, dressing up in costumes to scare away evil spirits, and offering food and drink to the spirits of family members who had come back to visit the home.

It was Pope Gregory III in the eighth century A.D. who tried to turn Halloween into a Christian holiday to divert Northern Europeans from celebrating an old pagan ritual. He made November 1st All Saints Day, and October 31 became All Hallows Eve. Instead of providing food and drink to the spirits, Christians were encouraged to provide food and drink to the poor. And instead of dressing up like animals and ghosts, Christians were encouraged to dress up like their favorite saints.

In the United States, Puritans tried to outlaw Halloween, in part because of its association with Catholicism. So it was the Irish Catholics who brought Halloween to this country, when they immigrated here in great numbers after the potato famine in the 1840's. Since the Irish were largely poor and oppressed, Halloween became a holiday for them to let off steam by pulling pranks, hoisting wagons onto barn roofs, releasing cows from their pastures, and committing all kinds of mischief involving outhouses. Treats evolved as a way to bribe the vandals and protect homes.

But by the late 1800's, Victorian women's magazines began to offer suggestions for celebrating Halloween in wholesome ways, with barn dancing and apple bobbing. And by the early 20th Century, it became a holiday for children more than adults. In 1920, the Ladies' Home Journal made the first known reference to children going door to door for candy, and by the 1950's it was a universal practice in this country. By 1999, 92 percent of America's children were trick-or-treating.

What's interesting about Halloween is that it has no real connection to the majority religion of this country, it does not celebrate an event in our nation's past, it does not involve traveling to visit family, and it doesn't even give us a day off work.

But it gives us the chance to try out other identities. For one day, people can feel free to dress as the opposite gender, as criminals, as superheroes, celebrities, animals, or even inanimate objects. But Halloween retailers report that the most popular costumes remain some variation on witches, ghosts, and devils.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Thoughts on Halloween Costumes

I've never been one of those Christians who made a big, silly fuss over the evils of Halloween. They're overreacting. Pick your battles wisely, I say, and cute kids dressing up imaginatively, having some fun and savoring candy is not a wise battle. It's no battle at all. It's charming, childhood memory-making.

But...we recently got a junk mail ad from Party City, a 20-store Southern Caifornia retail chain that sells colorful party plates and napkins, hundreds of invites and cards, streamers and party decor, wrapping papers and ribbons, baby and wedding shower do-dads and apparently, Halloween costumes.

I opened the ad, expecting to admire cute costumes...bunnies, pumpkins, ballerinas, firemen and football players. Instead, I found something entirely different.

Over 90% of the large-format, full-color six-page ad was devoted to ...well, here's a sampling of the costume names.

For teens (teen need costumes?), Draco dark underlord, zombie cheerleader, dark angel, gothic pirate lady, graveyard fairy, Prince Alarming, phantom, gauze zombie, vampire mistress, teen witch, punk pirate, crypt master, Demonica and gothic ballerina.

And for teens searching for a sex-infused Halloween look, there's sexy rag doll, Venus, French maid deluxe, dragon geisha, runaway princess and....I kid you not....Handy Candy.

The majority of the ad is devoted to costumes for elementary school boys and girls. For boys' costumes, Party City offers bleeding chest skeleton, Lord Lucifer, Commander Blade, ghoul with light-up eyes, crypt master and scorpion shadow ninja. And yes, a limited collection of uniforms for weapon-wielding professions....SWAT team, policeman and Delta Force.

For elementary-age girls, devil flames diva, jazzy witch, vampiretta, sparkle spiderella, goth hoop vamp, red hot, double trouble, glam rock diva and some sort of anti-cheerleader thng dubbed bad spirit.

The small ad section for infants/ toddlers was admittedly adorable to this new grandmother....pea in a pod, butterfly, Raggedy Ann, Thomas the Tank Engine and the cutest pink leopard.
I suppose I'm hopelessly out of tune with the trends. But I'm now having second thoughts about Halloween....

The intense darkness of the costumes in this ad speaks volumes about what appeals to kids and teenagers today. Supressing silly costumes solves almost's our country's current culture of death, darkness and meanness that causes this spiritual blackness.

But do we need a special occasion to celebrate and embrace the dark side?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

A Once Dreaded Title Is Now My Favorite Word

I can't even remember the day when I dreaded owning the title grandmother. The name once frightened meant aging and time going by too fast, and nonsense about vanity, pride and similar hazy foolishness.

My beautiful five-month-old grandaughter spent two afternoons with me this week, and suddenly grandmother is one of my favorite words.

I've had dozens of titles in my life.....daughter, granddaughter, sister, friend, girlfriend, wife, mother and aunt. And then there's student, parishioner, worker, accountant, business owner, writer and, truthfully, many more than I can recall at this instant.

My life has been defined by all these roles. But today, as I held precious young life in my arms, the Holy Spirit filled me with an indescribable love for her. This new role seems to occupy an important place in God's Plan for me. has a magical, deeply renewing ring to it!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Hero of the Month: A Long Island, New York High School Principal

L.I. Principal Cancels 'Bacchanalian' Prom by Frank Eltman, Associated Press Writer

Kenneth M. Hoagland had heard all the stories about prom-night debauchery at his Long Island high school: Students putting down $10,000 to rent a house in the Hamptons for a weekend bash. Pre-prom cocktail parties followed by a trip to the dance in a limo loaded with liquor. Fathers chartering a boat so their kids could go out on a late-night "booze cruise."

Enough was enough, Hoagland said. So the principal of Kellenberg Memorial High School fired off a 2,000-word missive to parents at the start of the school year informing them that the Catholic school would no longer put on the spring prom.

"It is not primarily the sex/booze/drugs that surround this event, as problematic as they might be; it is rather the flaunting of affluence, assuming exaggerated expenses, a pursuit of vanity for vanity's sake — in a word, financial decadence," Brother Hoagland said, fed up with what he calls the "bacchanalian aspects" of the prom.

"Each year it gets worse — becomes more exaggerated, more expensive, more emotionally traumatic," he added. "We are withdrawing from the battle and allowing the parents full responsibility. (Kellenberg) is willing to sponsor a prom, but not an orgy."

The move has brought a mixed, albeit passionate, reaction from students and parents.
"I don't think it's fair, obviously, that they canceled prom," said senior Alyssa Johnson of Westbury. "There are problems with the prom, but I don't think their reasons or the actions they took solved anything."

In his letter, Hoagland cited a litany of problems that he says have developed over the years. He began a dialogue on the future of the prom last spring after it was discovered that 46 Kellenberg seniors made a $10,000 down payment on a $20,000 rental in the Hamptons for a post-prom party. When school officials found out, they forced the students to cancel the deal; the kids got their money back and the prom went on as planned.

But Hoagland said some parents went ahead and rented a Hamptons house anyway.

Amy Best, an associate professor of sociology and anthropology at George Mason University in Virginia and the author of "Prom Night: Youth, Schools and Popular Culture," said this is the first time she has heard of a school canceling the prom for such reasons.

"A lot of people have lamented the growing consumption that surrounds the prom," she said, noting it is not uncommon to see students pay $1,000 on the prom and the surrounding folderol: dresses that cost hundreds, tuxedo rentals, flowers, limousines, pre- and post-prom parties.

Best pinned some of the blame for the burgeoning costs on parents, who are often willing to open their wallets for whatever their child demands. "It is a huge misperception that the kids themselves are totally driving this."

Edward Lawson, the father of a Kellenberg senior, said he and other parents are discussing whether to organize a prom for their children without the sponsorship of the 2,500-student school, which features pristine athletic fields, immaculate hallways and the latest in audio-visual technology.

"This is my fourth child to go through Kellenberg and I don't think they have a right to judge what goes on after the prom," he said. "They put everybody in the category of drinkers and drug addicts. I don't believe that's the right thing to do."

Some parents lined up in their cars outside the school to pick up their children on a recent afternoon said they are backing Hoagland.

"The school has excellent values," said Margaret Cameron of Plainview. "We send our children here because we support the values and the administration of the school and I totally back everything they do. I trust my child with them and I trust everything, all the decisions they make for them."

Hoagland said in an interview that parents, who pay $6,025 in annual tuition, have expressed appreciation for his stern stand. "For some, it (the letter) was an eye-opener," he said. "Others feel relieved that the pressure is off of them."

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Seeking True Inner Silence

"To make possible true inner silence, practice:

Silence of the eyes, by seeking always the beauty and goodness of God everywhere, closing them to the faults of others and to all that is sinful and disturbing to the soul;

Silence of the ears, by listening always to the voice of God and to the cry of the poor and the needy, closing them to all other voices that come from fallen human nature, such as gossip, tale-bearing and uncharitable words;

Silence of the tongue, by praising God and speaking the life-giving Word of God that is the Truth, that enlightens and inspires, brings peace, hope and joy, and by refraining from self-defense and every word that brings darkness, turmoil, pain and death;

Silence of the mind, by opening it to the truth and knowledge of God in prayer and contemplation, like Mary who pondered the marvels of the Lord in her heart, and by closing it to all untruths, distractions, destructive thoughts, rash judgments, false suspicions of others, revengeful thoughts, and desires;

Silence of the heart, by loving God with our heart, soul, mind and strength, and one another as God loves, and avoiding all selifishness, hatred, envy, jealousy and greed.

I shall keep the silence of my heart with greater care, so that in the silence of my heart I hear His words of comfort and from the fullness of my heart I comfort Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor.

For in the silence and purity of the heart, God speaks."

-- Mother Teresa from "Life, A User's Manual - Great Minds on the Big Questions"

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Cheering for the Home Team

Harriet, schmarriet. Who cares about the Supreme Court? Or world peace. Or smarmy politics.

It's the MLB post-season, and our Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are playing for the third time in four years for a World Series championship. In case you missed one of the great sports events of all time, our Angels won the World Series in 2002.

Our team plays the Yankees tonight in Angels Stadium, and it'll be exciting, peanut-munching fun!

Harriet who???

Go Angels!

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Eccentricities Revealed on Trip to Trader Joes

I recently dropped by Trader Joes....that veritable Toys-R-Us for pick-up a or two bottle of TJ enchilada sauce. Ron is half-addicted to it, and we ran out.

They were out of enchilada sauce...but did I leave with an empty cart? Obviously...of course not.

My cart, which could have been much fuller, brimmed with gourmet exotica and yummies that revealed my culinary eccentricities and that of my family.

To make your mouth water, too. I thought you might enjoy hearing my spontaneous shopping finds at Trader Joe's.....

-- TJ's spicy, smoky peach salsa (it's way beyond stupendous)
-- TJ's Thai mango coconut spread/dip with onions (part of TJ's Spreads of the World)
-- TJ's hot & sweet mustard
-- TJ's kalamata olive tapenade spread
-- whole wheat cinnamon raisin rolls, unsweetened (from the Zen Bakery)
-- 3 bags, organic banana chips
-- 2 jars, organic unsweetened apple sauce
-- organic white corn tortilla chips

Don't you wish you lived here today when we sample these goodies?