By Amelia Lowry
The frigid wind has begun to pick up again. Sweaters are worn by everyone this time of year, for style and for warmth. The air is thin. Everything smells like a pumpkin-spice latte. From the corner of the street, one can see pumpkin-spiced something or other being advertised in the windows of multiple shops. The sound of dead leaves crunching and people bragging of how many pumpkin-spice lattes/chais/milkshakes/cookies/etc. they have had fills our ears. Gloved thumbs skate up and down phone screens, revealing artistic and expressive photos of — you guessed it — pumpkin-spice lattes.
People call this Halloween.
For a lot of us, Halloween used to mean dressing up as our favorite superhero or Disney character and being escorted by parents up and down the streets of our hometown, watching hungrily as candy was dumped into our candy carrying devices. It was the one day a year where we were actually told to accept candy from strangers, a thrilling contrast to the other 364 days out of the year that we were told otherwise. Parents take hours out of their peanut butter and jam-packed schedules to set up the spookiest front lawn for Halloween night, all the while spending large chunks of their salaries to buy things like fake coffins and gravestones and little motion-censored rubber heads that scream when little kids walk by. Some of my most terrifying memories have taken place on October 31st, but the blows were always softened by bulging pillowcases full of candy.
People donning devil horns and red pleather walk the streets this night, alongside Frankenstein’s monster and his dead wife. There are Jasmines, Aladdins, Annas, Elsas, the occasional Pocahontas or Mulan. Vampires, witches, ghouls, and trolls are just a few of the creatures that make frequent appearances — and as scary as this is, the fright-level drops every year. Just a fraction. Halloween has transformed from genuinely fearing for one’s life to sipping on a pumpkin-spice latte while dressed like a Disney princess.
Thousands upon thousands of years ago, in Ireland and Scotland and Wales, there were no Starbucks coffee houses. The townspeople passed the time by working on their farms and milking sheep, or whatever it was that townsfolk would do. So, for the people living thousands of years ago, harvest-time was a pretty big deal and the 31st of October was just another day of celebration, another day of harvest. Unfortunately, there will always be that one guy who wants to screw everything up and in ancient Ireland and Scotland and Wales, that one guy was actually large groups of superstitious people who believed that the faeries would come out and the souls of the dead would return on October 31st, looking for bodies to possess. You know, that one guy.
This idea that the spirits of the dead would return was not as kooky as it may sound. November second, two days after Halloween, was regarded by the Roman Catholic Church as All Souls’ Day, where it was custom to honor the lives of those who had passed onto the next life. Some church folks would go from door to door and mutter prayers for those who had died. But as far as the groups of one guys were concerned, souls were not something to celebrate, but to fear.
“Tommy’s dad never did like me,” one might have said. “I bet he’d like to inhabit my body and devour my soul.”
Whether their thought process was logical or not, they would brandish torches and loud voices instead of prayer. They saw it as their duty to fend off the wayward spirits and souls of the dead — to protect the living — and they’d fill the streets with blundering noise in an attempt to scare off the supernatural.
Over time, many people stopped being so superstitious and thanks to grocery stores and preservatives and worldwide shipping, harvest was mostly forgotten about and now we can have apples and corn all year long. Consequently, the one guy has had to evolve into a much different species to annoy people in 2015, but that’s a different story for a different time.
As more time went on, pumpkin-spice lattes were created, and so were Starbucks, and now there is no autumn without them. There’s nothing spookier than spending ten dollars on a coffee, right?
This year, as you parade around town in your ‘80s-themed costumes (yikes!) or your skeletal face makeup, just keep in the back of your mind the real purpose — to scare away spirits to make sure they don’t steal the bodies of your family members. Maybe All Hallow’s Eve is your favorite holiday, maybe you really do believe in faeries and that black cats will bring you bad luck. As you celebrate Halloween, remember all the people who have lived and died, think of their mega-great-grandchildren and how the times are changing. No matter whether you’ll be on your knees begging for candy or warding off ghosts, at least you’ll be able to dress up like your favorite-whatever while you do it.
Lastly, as watered-down as this holiday gets, your life is probably better than having to milk chickens every day and being made to change the horse straw. And if you have nothing else to be excited for besides an extra ten dollars, you can go get yourself a pumpkin-spice latte.
Amelia Lowry is a Sophomore at Barbara Ingram School for the Arts