Sunday, October 28, 2012

Halloween's Ancient Roots

It's Halloween!  For the third of my Halloween blogs I have bits and pieces about ghosts, goblins, and things that go bump in the night.  Starting with the ancient origins of the Halloween holiday and then a bit about Jack O'Lanterns.

The roots of Halloween date back 2000 years to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in, rhymes with cow).  The Celts lived in what is now Ireland, United Kingdom, and northern France.  They celebrated their new year on November 1, the day marking the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark winter.  They believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead wasn't clearly defined.  On the night of October 31 they celebrated Samhain, a time when they believed the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.

To commemorate the event, the Druids (Celtic priests) built large sacred bonfires where the people made sacrifices to the Celtic deities.  During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes and attempted to tell each other's fortunes.  When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the winter.

By 43A.D., the Romans had conquered most of the Celtic territory.  During the next four hundred years, the Roman festivals of Feralia and Pomona were combined with the traditional celebration of Samhain.  In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV declared November 1st to be All Saints' Day.  It's believed today that the pope was trying to replace the Celtic festival with a church sanctioned holiday.  The celebration was also called All-hallows.  So, the night before it, the night of Samhain, was called All-Hallows Eve.

In 1000A.D., the church declared November 2nd All Souls' Day, a day to honor the dead.  It was celebrated similarly to Samhain with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes.  Together the three celebrations—the eve of All Saints', All Saints', and All Souls'—were called Hallowmas and eventually Halloween.

Halloween has always been a holiday filled with mystery, magic and superstition.  It began as a Celtic end-of-summer festival during which people felt especially close to deceased relatives and friends.  They set places at the table and left treats on doorsteps for these friendly spirits.  They also lit candles to help their loved ones find their way back to the spirit world.  Today's Halloween ghosts are usually depicted as scarier, as are our customs and superstitions.

And speaking of superstitions…have you ever wondered about where these strange beliefs came from?  British author Harry Oliver has written a book titled Black Cats and Four-Leaf Clovers where he explores the origins of superstitions and old wives' tales from around the world.  Here are a few of his observations.

Black Cats Bring Bad Luck:  black cats have been linked to witchcraft through the centuries which is why many people think they're unlucky.  If a cat crosses your path, it's considered unlucky.  However, if a cat walks toward you, it's a good omen.

Carrots Are Good For Your Eyesight:  although studies have shown that the vitamin A in carrots is good for your eyes, the vegetable isn't enough to create 20/20 vision.  Many believe that it was a smart attempt by parents to get their children to eat their vegetables.  There is another belief that it started during World War II.  It was rumored that British pilots were eating huge amounts of carrots so they could see from high altitudes and in the dark.  The rumor was created to keep the public from discovering that radar had been invented and was being used against the enemy.

Wear Your Underwear Inside Out:  when you're having a bad day, superstition says that if you turn your underwear inside out things will get better.  No one is sure where this one came from, but it like the result of a wild college fraternity party.

And then there's the Jack O'Lantern.  Making a Jack O'Lantern for Halloween is a centuries old practice that originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed Stingy Jack.  He played tricks on the Devil and made Satan promise not to take his soul when he died.  When the time came, God refused to allow him into heaven because he was an unsavory character.  The Devil wouldn't allow him into hell because Jack had made him promise.  With nowhere to go, Jack put a burning coal into a carved out turnip and has been roaming the Earth ever since.  The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as Jack Of The Lantern which morphed into Jack O'Lantern.

In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions by carving scary faces into turnips and potatoes, and in England they used large beets.  Immigrants from these countries brought the tradition with them to the United States where they soon found that pumpkins made the perfect Jack O'Lantern.

Do you have a favorite costume this year?  Are you planning on going to a party?  Leave me a comment about your Halloween plans.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

9 Halloween Lessons Learned From The Movies

Movies can provide more than just entertainment.  They can impart all sorts of valuable tidbits of information and Halloween movies offer some especially important lessons about ghosts, monsters, and evil things lurking in the shadows.

Here are 9 important lessons Halloween movies have taught us.

9)  When it appears that you have killed the monster, NEVER check to see if it's really dead.

8)  If your companions suddenly begin to exhibit uncharacteristic behavior such as hissing, fascination with blood, glowing eyes, or increasing hairiness, get away from them as fast as possible.

7)  Do not search the basement, especially if the power has just gone out (especially if it was NOT knocked out as the result of a storm).

6)  If appliances start operating by themselves, move out.

5)  Stay away from certain geographical locations such as: Amityville, Elm Street, Transylvania, Nilbog, the Bermuda Triangle…or any small town in Maine.

4)  If your children speak to you in any language which they should not know or if they speak to you using a voice which is not their own, be afraid…be very afraid.

3)  When you have the benefit of numbers, NEVER pair off or worse yet go it alone when searching the spooky old mansion for the source of the strange noises.

2)  As a general rule, don't solve puzzles that open portals to hell.

And last, but not least…

1)  If you find a town which looks deserted, there's probably a good reason for it.  Take the hint and stay away!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Horror Movies For The Halloween Season

A thought struck me the other day.  Not anything earth shattering nor a profound realization, but a thought none-the-less.  Perhaps I'm watching the wrong stations, but I haven't seen much in the way of promo for the October theatrical horror movie releases typical of the Halloween season.  Did Hollywood run out of ideas for this year's tribute to the spooky, macabre, and gruesome?  But that's impossible.  No new ideas?  No problem.  Just do yet another remake of an old one.

What happened to the scary horror movies from the past that traded on the atmosphere of fear rather than the visual of spurting blood and flying body parts?  The tingling sensation that made the hair stand on the back of our necks and goose bumps on our arms as our imaginations ran amuck.  The spooky ground fog that slithered over and around the tombstones, cloaking the cemetery in an eerie silence.

I'm talking about the traditional horror classics like Frankenstein from 1931 with Boris Karloff's brilliant performance as the monster.  Also from 1931, Dracula with Bela Lugosi's portrayal of the vampire as both elegant and mesmerizing which left the horror to the imagination of the viewer.  The next year gave us 1932's The Mummy with Boris Karloff once again turning in a stellar performance as the two thousand year old mummy in search of the reincarnation of his mate.  Then came 1941's The Wolf Man with Lon Chaney, Jr., as the stricken and cursed Larry Talbot.

True to Hollywood tradition, these classic horror movies spawned numerous sequels—Bride of Frankenstein, House of Frankenstein, Ghost of Frankenstein, Dracula's Daughter.  And as long as Hollywood was on a roll, they added to the profit factor by capitalizing on the popularity of the characters by having them co-star in such movies as Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man.  Then there were the myriad remakes that came over the ensuing years, some serious attempts and others totally ludicrous.  Each one pushed the envelope in its own way in order to hopefully make it better (as in more box office dollars) than its predecessor.

And the award for the most remakes over the years goes to Dracula.  Some were serious films and others were more on the ridiculous side with titles such as Dracula's Dog and Dracula's Widow.

With all four of the original movies, the remakes never really captured the essence of the originals…in my humble opinion.

And these certainly aren't the only horror movies that fall into the classic category.  This month Turner Classic Movies cable channel is doing their October retrospective of horror movies.  This year it's Classic Horror Wednesday in honor of Halloween's October 31st falling on Wednesday.  Each Wednesday starting at 8pm and continuing overnight, TCM is showing classic horror movies starting on October 3rd with the 1933 release of Mystery Of The Wax Museum and culminating in the wee hours of Thursday morning November 1st with 1933's The Invisible Man.

And that should be enough to satisfy any classic horror movie buff's needs…until October 2013 when it's classic horror movie time again.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Bizarre And Strange October Holidays

In last week's blog, I shared some historical events with you that occurred during the month of October.

This week I'd like to present you with some weird and bizarre October holidays.  While not necessarily celebrated, they are at least acknowledged. And many may leave you shaking your head and wondering how in the world it actually became a holiday. :)

Let's start out with causes (some serious, others frivolous) dedicated to month-long events.

October is Apple Jack month, Awareness month, Breast Cancer Awareness month, National Sarcastic's month, National Kitchen and Bath month, Computer Learning month, Cookie month, National Pizza month, National Vegetarian month, National Popcorn Popping month, and American Pharmacist month.  Hmmm…apple jack, cookie, pizza, vegetarian, popcorn and even kitchen.  Do we see a pattern here that seems to relate to food?

Oct 1           World Vegetarian Day, Chinese Moon Festival, Fire Pup Day, and Magic Circles Day

Oct 2           Name Your Car Day, National Custodial Worker Day, World Farm Animals Day, World Habitat Day

Oct 3           Virus Appreciation Day (this one confuses me, to appreciate something indicates we are in favor of it), Oktoberfest in Germany ends (date varies)

Oct 4           National Golf Day, National Frugal Fun Day

Oct 5           National Storytelling Festival, World Teacher's Day, Do Something Nice Day

Oct 6           German-American Day, Come and Take It Day, Physician Assistant Day, Mad Hatter Day, National Diversity Day

Oct 7           Bald and Free Day, National Frappe Day, World Smile Day.

Oct 8           American Tag Day, Cosmopolite's Day

Oct 9           Moldy Cheese Day, Fire Prevention Day, World Post Day

Oct 10         National Angel Food Cake Day

Oct 11         It's My Party Day, Take Your Teddy Bear to Work Day

Oct 12         International Moment of Frustration Scream Day, Cookbook Launch Day, Farmer's Day, Emergency Nurses Day

Oct 13         National Peanut Festival, International Skeptics Day, World Egg Day

Oct 14         Be Bald and Free Day, National Dessert Day

Oct 15         White Cane Day

Oct 16         Dictionary Day, Bosses Day

Oct 17         Gaudy Day

Oct 18         No Beard Day

Oct 19         Evaluate Your Life Day

Oct 20         National Brandied Fruit Day

Oct 21         Babbling Day, Count Your Buttons Day, Sweetest Day

Oct 22         National Nut Day, Mother-In-Law Day (fourth Sunday in October), National Color Day

Oct 23         National Mole Day, TV Talk Show Host Day

Oct 24         National Bologna Day

Oct 25         Punk-For-A-Day Day

Oct 26         Mule Day

Oct 27         Sylvia Plath Day, Navy Day

Oct 28         Plush Animal Lover's Day, National Chocolate Day (just in time for Halloween)

Oct 29         Hermit Day, National Frankenstein Day (also just in time for Halloween)

Oct 30         National Candy Corn Day (and another one just in time for Halloween)

Oct 31         Halloween, Carve A Pumpkin Day, National Magic Day, Increase Your Psychic Powers Day.

And one last item:  As usual, Turner Classic Movies cable television channel is running classic horror movies every Wednesday through Halloween.  Check out the TCM schedule at their website.  Always fun fare for the season.