31 October 2007

31 October 2007

When I was a punk kid Halloween meant the smell of eggs and shaving cream. We'd go "bombing". Finast wouldn't sell you eggs if you were a kid and then there was the urban legend of the evil posse of kids who'd put Nair in their eggs and all your hair would fall out or instead of using regular shaving cream, they'd use Nair cream. Everyone had a story about that which never actually happened yet the fear was still quite tangible. It was sort of like that story that made the rounds of the kid who took too much acid and started to think he was a pitcher of orange juice. Yeah, never happened.

We used to melt and manipulate the plastic caps on the Barbasol cans so the shaving cream would spray with the consistency of silly string. It was such a mess. I remember one year we realised if you threw flashbulbs they'd explode on impact like lighters and fluorescent lightbulbs. So we'd buy a pack of flashbulbs for those 110 cameras and we'd throw them like idiots. It was truly retarded. I don't even know how it all started but I can remember the anticipation of that day; getting all your supplies ready the weeks before because as it got closer and closer to October 31 the shelves of Morris would be cleaned out; no shaving cream, nothing. That's when you knew, it was on; it was war. Other kids in the hood were obviously stockpiling, too.

You'd take the B16 to school and it would get pelted with eggs the whole way there and the whole way home. The sound was hysterical. And the old ladies would recoil in horror and then shake their heads in disgust and talk amongst themselves. The kids old enough to drive would cruise around and throw eggs at everyone waiting for the bus or walking home. For an afternoon into the evening, it was total mayhem. You felt alive; afraid and alive.

the legendary Nair cream

Is a history of Halloween and its origins what you'd come to expect from this blog? I hope not but I fear it is. I can't help it if "fun facts" are my forte. On with the show...

Halloween greeting card from 1904; Divination is depicted: the young woman looking into a mirror in a darkened room hopes to catch a glimpse of the face of her future husband.

The term Halloween is shortened from All-hallow-even, as it is the eve of "All Hallows' Day" a.k.a. All Saints' Day. It was a day of religious festivities in various northern European Pagan traditions.

Many European cultural traditions, in particular Celtic cultures, hold that Halloween is one of the liminal times of the year when spirits can make contact with the physical world, and when magic is most potent.

The modern holiday of Halloween has its origins in the ancient Gaelic festival known as Samhain. Think Danzig. The Festival of Samhain is a celebration of the end of the harvest season in Gaelic culture, and is erroneously regarded as 'The Celtic New Year'.


Traditionally, the festival was a time used by the ancient pagans to take stock of supplies and slaughter livestock for winter stores. The Ancient Gaels believed that on October 31, the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead overlapped and the deceased would come back to life and cause havoc such as sickness or damaged crops.

The festivals would frequently involve bonfires, where the bones of slaughtered livestock were thrown. Costumes and masks were also worn at the festivals in an attempt to mimic the evil spirits or placate them.

When the Romans occupied Celtic territory, several Roman traditions were also incorporated into the festivals. Feralia, a day celebrated in late October by the Romans for the passing of the dead as well as a festival which celebrated the Roman Goddess Pomona, the goddess of fruit were incorporated into the celebrations. The symbol of Pomona was an apple, which is a proposed origin for the tradition of bobbing for apples on Halloween.

Halloween is very popular in Ireland, where it is believed to have originated, and is known in Irish as Oíche Shamhna, literally "Samhain Night". I think that means "End of Summer" night.

The pre-Christian Celts had a pastoral and agricultural "fire festival" or feast, when the dead revisited the mortal world, and large communal bonfires would hence be lit to ward off evil spirits.

Scotland seems to be the most responsible for the version of Halloween we know and love today in America. The Scots were the first with the trick or treating and the evil squash carving.

For Scotland, having a shared Gaelic culture and language with Ireland, has celebrated the festival of Samhain robustly for centuries.

Halloween, known in Scottish Gaelic as "Oidhche Shamhna", consists chiefly of children going door to door "guising", dressed in a disguise (often as a witch or ghost) and offering entertainment of various sorts. If the entertainment is enjoyed, the children are rewarded with gifts of sweets, fruits or money.

There is no Scottish 'trick or treat' tradition; on the contrary, 'trick or treat' may have its origins in the guising customs.

In Scotland a lot of folklore revolves around the belief in faeries. Children used to dress up in costumes and carry around a "Neepy Candle," a devil face carved into a hollowed out Neep. (A neep is a rutabaga or a turnip) lit from inside, to frighten away the evil faeries.

I said NEEP, muthafucka

Nowadays however, they are more likely to use a pumpkin, as American children do. This is possibly because it is easier to carve a face in a pumpkin than in a "neep", because "Neeps" are harder and more tough than pumpkins. Some believe that the practice of hollowing out pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns has roots here in America. Probably because the pumpkin was more readily available, much larger than a neep and easier to carve. We like it easy here.

In the United Kingdom, All Saints' Day became fixed on 1 November in the year 835. All Souls' Day became fixed on 2 November, the year 998. On All Souls' Eve, families stayed up late, and little "soul cakes" were eaten by everyone. At the stroke of midnight there was solemn silence among households, which had candles burning in every room to guide the souls back to visit their earthly homes, and a glass of wine on the table to refresh them.

The tradition continued in areas of northern England as late as the 1930's, with children going from door-to-door "souling" (singing songs) for cakes or money. Eventually (and naturally) the Brits got bored with it and the holiday sort of faded away until Halloween celebrations in the UK were repopularised in the 1980's with influence from America, and the U.K. saw the reintroduction of traditions such as pumpkin carvings and trick-or-treat.

Speaking of the United States...

Halloween did not become a holiday in the United States until the 19th century, where lingering Puritan tradition restricted the observance of many holidays. American almanacs of the late 18th and early 19th centuries do not include Halloween in their lists of holidays.

The transatlantic migration of nearly two million Irish following the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840's finally brought the holiday to the United States. Scottish emigration from the British Isles, primarily to Canada before 1870 and to the United States thereafter, brought the Scottish version of Halloween to each country.

Halloween in Mexico begins three days of consecutive holidays, as it is followed by All Saints' Day, which also marks the beginning of the two day celebration of the Day of the Dead or the Día de los Muertos. This might account for the initial explanations of the holiday having a traditional Mexican-Catholic slant.

We were in Australia one year for Halloween and they don't celebrate that shit down there. We were like "Oh, we're gonna be on tour in Australia for Halloween, how cool! What should we do this year?" and our tour manager was like "Uh, what the fuck is Halloween?!" Homeys down under don't play that shit.

In other regions such as Japan and Germany, Halloween has become popular in the context of American pop culture. Some Christians do not appreciate the resultant deemphasis of the more spiritual aspects of All Hallows Eve and Reformation Day, respectively, or of regional festivals occurring around the same time. Business has a natural tendency to capitalise on the holiday season's more commercial aspects, such as the sale of decorations and costumes.

Here, Halloween has become the sixth most profitable holiday (sixth after Christmas, Mother's Day, Valentines Day, Easter, and Father's Day). The commercialisation of Halloween in the United States did not start until the 20th century, beginning perhaps with Halloween postcards which were most popular between 1905 and 1915. Dennison Manufacturing Company, which published its first Hallowe'en catalog in 1909, and the Beistle Company were pioneers in commercially made Halloween decorations, particularly die-cut paper items. German manufacturers specialised in Halloween figurines that were exported to the United States in the period between the two World Wars.

There is little documentation of masking or costuming on Halloween in the United States or elsewhere, prior to 1900. Mass-produced Halloween costumes did not appear in stores until the 1930's, and trick-or-treating did not become a fixture of the holiday until the 1950's.

Overall the imagery surrounding Halloween is largely an amalgamation of the Halloween season itself, nearly a century of work from American filmmakers and graphic artists, and a rather commercialised take on the evil and mysterious. You know ghouls, witches, vampires, bats, owls, crows, vultures, haunted houses, black cats, spiders, goblins, zombies, mummies, skeletons, demons, all that shit.

Photo: Jeff Jacobson/Redux

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have never actually witnessed a NAIR egg either, but one time I smelled rotten eggs (could have been from an actual egg) and in the vernacular of the day:booked, fearing that the infamous clump of hair removing egg was nearby.

Kids in Marine Park did freeze their eggs to make them hurt more. We were all such Halloween/July 4th bastards before Giuliani.

Fuck the Wales for replacing the pumpkin with a turnip.