Happy New Year! I hope everyone has a wonderful start to 2019. This is, of course, the time for resolutions to begin… what are your New Year’s resolutions this year?
This blog post was originally published on December 31, 2015.
Currently, most people around the world begin New Year’s celebrations on December 31, the last day of the Gregorian calendar. But as with so much in the modern world, it wasn’t always so. Although people have celebrated the beginning of a new year for millennia, astrological or agricultural events typically marked the new year.
The earliest recorded celebration of the beginning of a new year was in ancient Babylon, some 4,000 years ago. For Babylonians, the new year began with the first full moon following the vernal equinox, a date falling in late March. It was a massive religious festival that required a different ritual every day for 11 days.
Chinese New Year was tied to the second new moon after the winter solstice. In Egypt the new year began with the annual flooding of the Nile, coincident with the rising of the star Sirius.
For early Romans, each new year began with the vernal equinox. A year had 304 days divided into 10 months. Over time, the calendar year deviated significantly from the sun year. In 46 B.C. Julius Caesar consulted astronomers and mathematicians to solve the problem. He added 90 days to that year, adjusted the length of months, and declared January 1 as the first day of the year. January honors the Roman god of beginnings—Janus—who has two faces that look forward and back. In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII established January 1 as New Year’s Day for Christians.
We’re all familiar with New Year’s celebrations that involve eating special foods for good luck on New Year’s Eve and/or New Year’s Day: legumes, such as lentils or black-eyed peas, signaling financial success; pork, associated with prosperity; ring-shaped cakes and pastries, because the year has come full circle; sometimes cakes or puddings with something hidden inside, to bring especially good luck to the one who gets the nut or prize. Sometimes the number of courses (3, 5, 7, 9, or 12) are specified. In several Spanish-speaking countries, eating 12 grapes, accompanied by 12 wishes, as the clock strikes 12 is traditional. (In Portugal, it’s 12 raisins.)
Making a lot of noise—shooting guns, banging pots and pans, blaring car horns, playing loud music, setting off firecrackers—is supposed to scare away bad luck and evil spirits. Partying with family and/or friends is common, as is fireworks displays or other ritual midnight activities.
In the U.S., the dropping of the giant ball in Times Square, begun in 1907, is now watched by millions. Spin-offs involve publicly dropping items that represent an area’s culture, geography, or history: the Peach Drop in Atlanta, GA; Pickle Drops in Dillsburg, PA, and Mount Olive, NC; the Possum Drop in Tallapoosa, GA; Wylie the Walleye Fish Drop in Port Clinton, OH; the Bologna Drop in Lebanon, PA; a Watermelon Drop in Vincennes, IN; the Midnight Muskrat Dive in Princess Anne, MD; a Big Cheese Drop in Plymouth, WI; a Pine Cone Drop in Flagstaff, AZ; a Grape Drop in Temecula Valley, CA; a Donut Drop in Hagerstown, MD; a Flip-flop Drop in Folly Beach, SC; a Wrench Drop in Mechanicsburg, PA; Beach Ball Drop in Panama City Beach, FL; the Music Note Drop in Nashville, TN; Chile Drop in Las Cruces, Mexico. Surely I’ve missed some! Please feel free to comment on your favorites.
In England, the national icon is the tolling of Big Ben. Similar striking clocks or bells are widespread in Europe. In Albania, people watch a lot of comedy shows because one should enter the new year laughing and full of joy. In the Czech Republic and Slovakia, playing the Czechoslovak national anthem at midnight honors the time they were one nation. In Turkey and Russia, New Year’s involves many of the traditions of Christmas in other parts of the world. In Costa Rica, running across the street with luggage is to bring travel and new adventures in the year ahead. But in Venezuela, only those traveling in January pull a suitcase around the house. In Japan, people clean their homes and Buddhist temples ring their bells 108 times, representing the mental states that lead people to take unwholesome actions.
In the Philippines, many wear new, bright, colorful clothes with circular patterns. In Brazil, wearing white on the beach to ring in the new year is supposed to bring good luck. In Italy, wearing red underwear on New Year’s Eve is traditional. Spanish tradition holds that wearing new red underwear brings good luck. In Venezuela, the underwear is yellow.
In Scotland, Hogmanay is celebrated with First-Footing (going to each other’s houses with gifts of whiskey and sometimes a lump of coal); Edinburgh hosts a 4 or 5 day festival, beginning on December 28th, including cannon fire and fireworks displays.
North and South Korea celebrate New Years twice, a Lunar New Year which varies, and a Solar New Year which is always January 1.
The practice of making resolutions for the new year is thought to have been popular first among the ancient Babylonians.
And thus we come full circle—a fine New Year’s tradition! What are your favorite traditions?
Today is Christmas, but whatever holiday you celebrate, I hope you and your loved ones have a wonderful, relaxing holiday and a great end to the year.
Fogg Wins A Wager Day: From Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days, in 1872, Fogg walked into the saloon of the Reform Club in London, and said “Here I am, gentlemen!” exactly 79 days, 23 hours, 59 minutes, and 59 seconds after starting his trip. He won a 20,000 pound wager.
VL: I’ve often said that I’ve never met a boring writer. Here to prove that point is my interview with Bradley Harper, mystery writer and so much more!
VL: Let’s start with your debut novel, A Knife in the Fog. I loved it! I have been a fan of Sherlock Holmes mysteries since my college days, and when I read your book I found you had the tone spot-on. You evoked the time and the place in a way that took me there—which is no small feat. What drew you to writing a murder mystery in the first place?
BH: Doctors love mysteries in general, as the diagnostic process is much like solving a mystery. You collect data points and, after testing various hypotheses, arrive at a plausible diagnosis. A Pathologist does practically nothing else. Also, I fell in love with the Holmes stories the summer I discovered them at age 13. If you’re going to spend hundreds or thousands of hours writing a novel, it should be in a genre you know and love.
VL: So that’s why you are drawn to mysteries, and why this sort of mystery, but how did you come up with this particular plot?
BH: I discovered the four-year gap between the first and second Holmes stories, and that the Ripper murders occurred in the middle of that period. I became excited at the idea of a novel involving Doyle in the hunt for the killer, and explaining why he returned to Holmes after being soured on crime fiction due to his meager payment (twenty-five pounds), for the first one.
VL: I admire the way you combined real people—i.e., Doyle, his real-life influence Joseph Bell, and Margaret Harkness, a real woman of the time—and wove this wonderful fiction around them.
BH: I’m glad I found Miss Harkness. She was an author and Suffragette who lived in the East End of London for a while to do research for her novels featuring the working poor.
VL: I like her character a lot. I hope to see more of her! But let’s change gears here, and look at your work before you retired and started writing fiction. Where did you attend med school?
BH: Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, 1979-83.
VL: Well, that answers my next question about whether your medical training preceded joining the Army.
BH: I started as an Airborne Qualified Infantry Officer and at one time was a platoon leader in a Mechanized Infantry Battalion. Due to the draw down after Viet Nam, I was transferred to the Transportation Corps and ran a motor pool in Izmir, Turkey, as part of a NATO Headquarters there. One of the four walls of my motor pool was the remnant of a Roman aqueduct. Thirty-seven years later, I retired as the Deputy Assistant Surgeon General for the US Army in the Pentagon.
BH: During my Army years, I enjoyed many extraordinary experiences. This picture was taken shortly after receiving an award from the Knights of Malta for my assistance to the Italian Army in their preparation for deployment to Afghanistan as part of a NATO mission. The advanced first aid course I helped found has since become mandatory training for all Italian land forces prior to deployment, and was recently taught to the Italian Presidential security detail.
I also had the unique experience of serving as the acting commander of the US Army Hospital in Heidelberg, Germany, on the fiftieth anniversary of General Patton’s death there. I presided over the commemoration ceremony involving both US military and local German dignitaries.
VL: Wow. Quite a progression! Congratulations. But hold on. If you didn’t join the Army to go to medical school, why did you join?
BH: My draft number was 84, so I knew as soon as I graduated from college I was going into the military. I decided to take an ROTC scholarship for my last two years. (My original goal was to be a high school Spanish and History teacher). One day relatively early in my service I went on sick call for an injured ankle, and the doctor who saw me was such an unpleasant person I decided that I and my soldiers deserved better care. So I went to med school with the goal of seeing to it that soldiers and their families got the care they deserved.
VL: What made you stick with it?
BH: I discovered I liked being part of something larger than myself, and found living abroad an amazing experience.
VL: What were the best and worse things about your time in the military?
BH: I enjoyed being reassigned every two to three years into a new job. That allowed me to take on various roles and to develop a wide skill set. Frequent moves did limit my social circle, however, and I didn’t have what I would consider a close friend as an adult until after I retired. Fortunately, I had the love and support of Chere, my wife of 45 years.
BH: In the five years since I retired, she has joined me in my Santa gigs as well. She’s wonderful.
VL: When you addressed the Central Virginia Chapter of Sisters in Crime—an excellent presentation, by the way—you mentioned having a $1.5 million bounty on your head at one time. Tell me about that.
BH: While serving as the Command Surgeon for U.S. Army South, I spent time in Colombia overseeing a joint training course with the Colombian Army. That’s when the bounty was offered.
VL: I never expected to meet anyone wanted-dead-or-alive!
BH: You still haven’t! The bounty was for anyone who could deliver me to the FARC alive. As the highest ranking U.S. officer in the area, I was considered very valuable as a live hostage to ransom. (Offer no longer valid, by the way.)
VL: Hmmm. If there’s no longer a profit in kidnapping you, I might as well get on with the interview. You are Board Certified in Anatomic and Clinical Pathology, and you said you’ve conducted over two-hundred autopsies. What sorts of forensic autopsies did you perform that subsequently informed your writing?
BH: All military pathologists undergo forensic training. We are often sent to remote locations, and are the only game in town. I am not Board Certified in Forensics, however, so any cases which might go to trial would be sent to the nearest military forensic specialist. The cases I did were crib deaths, training accidents, motor vehicle accidents, suicides, or people who died on the job unexpectedly. Two suicides by standing in front of a train and one accident involved being run over by light rail informed my writing in one of the final scenes in A Knife in the Fog. I was involved in one case while in Germany which had mixed jurisdiction between the German civil authorities and the US, so I attended the autopsy performed by my German colleague, and my notes were used to prosecute the US serviceman involved.
VL: You’ve told us quite a bit about your work as Santa. But I’m curious about something you mentioned in the SinC-CV presentation. What prompted you to volunteer in Galicia? Apparently it wasn’t a one-off. Do you do this annually? How long does that take? Are you actually walking the pilgrims’ route?
BH: After I retired from the Army I walked the Camino to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. It is an ancient pilgrimage route begun in the ninth century, and millions have walked The Way to the bones of St. James as an act of atonement or contrition. I did it to give me some time to ponder what direction my life would take after thirty-seven years in the military. After a transformative experience I have written about and shared on a local radio program—which is too long to go into here—I wanted to give back, and to help others realize their dreams. I speak five languages other than English, and being functional in so many tongues allowed me to assist pilgrims from most of Europe and, of course, the English-speaking world. I got back as much as I gave. This is the first year I have not volunteered after five consecutive summers. These were fifteen-day stints—with my wife—first in the pilgrim office, and later as a hospitalero, or host, in a pilgrim hostel.
VL: Surely you realize that mentioning a transformative experience more or less in passing means I’m likely to come back to you for more about that! But forging ahead for now, what about your personal life? Do you have hobbies or pets?
BH: I read incessantly, and swim for fitness when my shoulder allows. No other hobbies to speak of, and no pets. I travel a lot, still. Perhaps when I go from the “go-go” phase of life to the “go-slow” or the “no-go,” I’ll add a pet to my life.
VL: I’d like to end with info on your future project(s). What are you working on now?
BH: I am fortunate to have a two-book contract with Seventh Street Books, and am involving my heroine from book one, Margaret Harkness, in trying to stop an assassination attempt on Queen Victoria during her Diamond Jubilee ceremony. It will be titled Queen’s Gambit.
VL: When might fans hope to have Queen’s Gambit in hand?
BH: It’s scheduled for release in October of 2019, on the one-year anniversary of the debut of my first book.
VL: What, if anything, would you like to share with other writers about how you balance family life, Santa duty, volunteer activities, and your writing life?
BH: I don’t multi-task. I don’t believe anyone can accomplish their best work unless they are entirely focused on the task in front of them. So when I write, I go all-in. I do ponder plot points and issues when I’m not writing, but when I am playing Santa, for example, I am totally focused on the people who have come to see Santa. These encounters are brief, but if I can communicate to them that I genuinely wish them well, they will remember that for a long time after.
The best advice I got in med school was: when the body is tired, work the mind. When the mind is tired, work the body. Eat well, walk, laugh, engage with those around you, be grateful for every day, and life will sort itself out.
VL: Let’s end with those words of wisdom! Thank you, Brad, for sharing so generously of your time, your experiences, and your thoughts. I look forward to wrangling another blog sometime down the road!
Follow Bradley Harper online at bharperauthor.com. You will find pictures and notifications of appearances, as well as bits of off-beat information about Victorian England, forensics, and whatever strikes his fancy! You can even get info about Harper’s compilation of four short stories.
After I retired from the Army, (37 years, 4 months, and 9 days, and yes, someone WAS counting!) I grew a beard because, hey, I could! It came out white, which at my age was no surprise. My wife began hinting that I should try being a Santa. I was very unsure about that suggestion, but over time decided that when she was eight she decided she wanted to marry Santa Claus. So, if she was to become Mrs. Claus … you get the idea.
I auditioned for a local park, and to my surprise, and more than a small amount of panic, I got one of the slots. Now I was in for it. I began walking through the toy section of stores. I memorized “The Night Before Christmas.” I speak various languages to differing degrees of proficiency, so memorized how to say “what would you like for Christmas” in Spanish, French, Italian, and German, (the park gets a fair number of international visitors.) I didn’t have to understand the reply. A smile and knowing wink is universal.
Day three in the throne. I got this! It’s kinda fun. As long as I don’t promise more than “I’ll look into it,” I’m golden.
Then life, as it is known to do, threw me a curve ball. One of the young ladies serving as an elf comes up to me and says, “Santa, you’re about to see three kids. They’ve been orphans for the past year. The foster parents keeping them have just been approved to adopt them, and they want YOU to tell them!”
I took about one deep breath, and there they were. No pressure, right? The girl was the oldest. Around twelve, she was obviously a non-believer by now, but playing along for her younger brothers. The ten-year-old was unsure. That phase where they don’t really think you’re real, but don’t want to blow their chances, just in case. The eight-year-old still had the faith. His eyes were large, brown, and round.
Unsure what to say at the moment, I fell back on the old stand-by, “What would you like for Christmas?” They said something, but honestly I didn’t hear a word, thinking to myself, “What can I say? What CAN I say?”
Then it came to me. I took another deep breath and said, “Those are great ideas. I’ll look into it, but I have something for you today.”
“What’s that Santa?” the oldest asked, obviously the spokesman for the group.
“A family,” I said.
They looked puzzled, but when I explained they would not have to leave the foster family, that they could stay together, well, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Yeah, I teared up just now, again, though it was six years ago.
So what did I learn? In the Hero’s Journey, the Hero comes back changed by their Quest. Though I didn’t leave my throne, I had just been on quite a ride.
I learned that I wanted to be Santa Claus more than anything else in the world. I fully embraced the role after that. Santa has made me a kinder, and more patient, man. With my beard, I stand out anywhere I go. I have to be careful what I say and how I act. I never know where or when a child might see me. I have to be in tune with “the better angels of my nature,” whenever I am in public. (OK, I can’t eat ribs in public anymore. But it’s worth it!)
Santa has made me a better person. When I put on my super hero costume and go forth to fight for happiness, I never promise a toy, but I always offer a hug.
I have a photo of my back side as I am hugging an elderly black man. His name was Walter, and I met him at a gift exchange at an Alzheimer’s day care center. Every patient got a gift bag selected for them by the staff. I handed them out and hugged each one. Walter’s face is beaming, and a trick of the lighting perhaps, but I see a small halo around his head.
I got the photo from his daughter who tracked me down. She said her dad had been abandoned as a child, and had never had a visit from Santa his entire life.
The next year I was told that Walter had passed. His daughter told the director of the daycare center the photo of me hugging him had become his favorite, and at his funeral his daughter had that picture blown up and placed on an easel beside his open coffin.
That taught me how powerful even one moment can be in another person’s life. Don’t hold back. This moment may never come again.
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said that a man can never cross a river twice, for each time both he and the river will have changed. Every time I assume the role, it may be the first time for whoever I come into contact with. I may define Santa for the rest of their life.
No pressure, right? But here’s the thing. Just like Dumbo and his magic feather, the magic is not in the robe. It was inside me all the time. I just needed the license the costume gave me to tap into it.
You may not wear a red suit, but I hereby deputize you to share love and joy, wherever you go. You can do it. Find that better angel that has been inside you all along, and let them breathe. You, and all those around you, will be the better for it.
PS: Three nights ago, a little girl around five came up to me with her letter to Santa. On it were several letters carefully inscribed but not forming any words I could discern.
Me: “What does it say, Dear?”
Little Girl: “I don’t know, Santa. I can’t read!”
The adventure continues.
PPS: My wife was hired the following year as Mrs. Claus. Adventures are more fun with the right companions.
Halloween is second only to Christmas in money spent specifically for the holiday. Americans spend almost $10 BILLION per year on candy, costumes, and decorations. But how many people have considered the meanings of things associated with Halloween? Here, for your edification, is Halloween deconstructed. Many Halloween traditions have their roots in ancient Celtic harvest festivals, especially the Gaelic festival of Samhain. Halloween came to America with the Scottish and Irish immigrants in the 1800s, and was widely popular by the early 1900s. But some modern Halloween traditions were first practiced approximately 4,000 BCE, so it’s no wonder that meanings and traditions have morphed over time.
Skulls serve as reminders of death and the transitory quality of human life (a reference to Golgatha in Christian tradition). A skull is often depicted with cross bones (St. Andrew’s Cross), a symbol of spiritual perfection.
A skeleton is the personification of Death and sometimes the devil. In alchemy, it is the symbol of blackness and putrefaction which precede transmutation.
In some instances a skeleton symbolizes death in general and the brevity of human life.
Druid priests would throw bones of cattle into the flames and thus bone fire became bonfire. Also, see CATS below.
One superstition is that if an unmarried woman sits in a darkened room and peers into a mirror on Halloween, she will see her marriage future. If a face appears, it will be her future husband. If a skull appears, she will die unwed.
In the United States’ Deep South there lingers a belief that white moss taken from the skull of a murdered man has special magical and medical properties.
Currently skulls represent courage and rebellion, embraced by bikers and others.
Skulls carved from crystal and mineral rocks are thought to be strongly protective and healing.
The word witch comes from the Old English wicce, meaning wise woman. Wiccan were highly respected at one time.
According to popular belief, witches held one of their two main meetings, or sabbats, on Halloween.
Witches and warlocks were regarded as priestesses and priests of devil worship.
In medieval Europe, owls were seen as witches, and have historically been one of the most popular Halloween images.
At various periods in history, witches were believed to be in league with the Devil, and anyone (mostly women) associated with unexplained occurrences was suspected of witchcraft, leading to hunts and trials.
At one time, all cats were thought to be familiars of witches, and witches were believed to be able to turn themselves into cats at will to carry out their evil intentions
Cats. During the ancient celebrations of Samhain, Druids were said to throw cats into a fire, often in wicker cages, as a means of divination. From their association with Samhain, and later witches, cats are now an integral part of Halloween, especially black cats. (see above and below.)
There is a worldwide superstition that a black cat crossing your path will bring good luck. (Be sure to make a wish if it does.) In America, black cats are generally thought to be unlucky—although black and white—and grey—cats are said to be lucky. The international good luck belief in black cats dates back to Egyptian times when one of their most important goddesses was Bast, a female black cat. So, a black cat walking into your house is an omen of good fortune, particularly of money to come.
(Other aspects of cat luck depend on whether you own it or meet it, whether or not it crosses your path, and how many cats are involved.)
Not directly related to Halloween, but in both America and Europe, a white cat is looked upon with some suspicion, and a gray tortoiseshell coming into your home is a bad omen.
Black cats are thought to have curative powers. A little blood from the tail is reputed to heal many minor wounds if rubbed on the affected area. They are also used in rituals to appease the gods, but never killed. To kill a black cat is extremely bad luck.
During the Middle Ages, Satan was believed to take the form of a black cat while consorting with witches.
Cats are not just cats. Druids believed that cats were humans who were being punished for evil acts during their lives. Opposite: Buddhists believed that cats were the temporary resting places of extremely spiritual people. Related: In Japan, it was believed that spirits of the dead sometimes take the form of female cats. Cats have long been believed to be the familiars of witches. (See above.)
A cat on top of a tombstone signals that the soul of the body buried beneath was possessed by the devil.
Although in the East, bats are a good omen, in the West, they are considered harbingers of evil. It’s a creature of mystery and darkness, coming out at night and mysteriously disappearing at dawn (as witches were also thought to do).
In the Middle Ages bats were believed to be in league with the devil and in partnership with witches. A bat was called the witches’ bird.
Bats were thought to be able to transform themselves into human form or that of a wolf or other unrelated species.
Owls are associated with both wisdom and doom. There are lengthy myths and beliefs going back to the Greeks and Romans and probably earlier. For Halloween purposes, I’ll focus on the doom beliefs. One superstition is that hearing an owl’s call is a sign that someone is about to die.
In Vedic mythology of the Hindus, Yama, the god of the dead, had owls and pigeons as his messengers.
An owl shrieking during the day heralded an impending defeat in battle, a plague, sickness, or death. In rural communities, the owl is still seen as an evil omen.
Native Americans believed the owl wasn’t a real bird but the spirit of the dead, taking that form to warn of approaching death. In addition, the hooting of the owl was sometimes the dead communicating with the living. The owl was supposed to be the heartbeat of the dead person who came to tell news in the gloom of midnight.
A Seminole Indian who hears an owl call whistles back. If the owl doesn’t answer the whistle, s/he believes s/he has received the summons of approaching death.
When a single crow caws near a house it is announcing an approaching calamity. If it flies to the left, it is a sign of bad news.
When a crow is seen immediately before or after a wedding ceremony, the unhappy couple will divorce.
Although Celtic folklore is full of ghosts, driven by both good and evil intentions, generally it’s unhealthy to meet a ghost.
Ghosts embody, and in a sense symbolize, fears of beings who dwell in another world.
The Druid Thanksgiving for harvests occurred on October 31. It was the feast of Saman, lord of Death, who called together the souls of all the wicked ones who had been condemned to inhabit the bodies of animals during the year. The good souls were believed to take human form, but it was impossible to tell the real human beings from the ones inhabited by ghosts.
Good souls entered the body of another human being for the occasion, but wicked ghosts had to roam around in search of an abode.
It was believed that any harm that might be inflicted by a wicked soul could be lightened by gifts.
Medieval people believed that cats and rabbits were inhabited by evil souls. When these animals were seen on the ground where the dead were supposed to rest forever, they were taken for ghosts in disguise.
Originally, a jack-o’-lantern was intended to light the way of a wandering spirit, denied entry into either heaven or hell. Carved pumpkins are a New World variation on an old Irish tradition.
The Irish Celts invented the jack-o’-lantern. According to folklore, Stingy Jack was out drinking with the Devil and convinced him to turn himself into a coin to pay for their drinks without spending money. He put the devil coin in his pocket with a silver cross which kept the Devil from changing back. He promised to free the devil if the Devil wouldn’t bother him for a year, and if he died, the Devil could never claim his soul. Subsequently, he tricked the Devil another time or two. When Jack finally died, God found him unfit for heaven, but the Devil had promised never to claim his soul for hell. So Jack was sent to roam the earth with only a burning coal for light.
Stingy Jack put the coal in a turnip and became Jack of the Lantern. The Irish carved jack-o’-lantern from turnips, beets, and potatoes to scare away Stingy Jack and any other spirits.
Halloween costumes are an offshoot of an ancient Celtic belief that dressing up as ghouls and other spooks would allow them to escape the notice of real spirits roaming the streets during Samhain. Traditional Halloween costumes reflect supernatural beings such as vampires, ghosts, skeletons, witches, devils, or other monsters.
According to ancient Roman records, people in today’s France and Germany wore costumes of animal heads and skins to connect to spirits of the dead.
One belief was that people who wear their cloths inside out and then walk backwards on Halloween will see a witch at midnight.
Early celebrants of Samhain often disguised themselves as evil spirits by simply blackening their faces. This may be the earliest form or “false faces,” as masks in Ireland were known.
Among the Iroquois, their False Face dances originate from Flint, the evil one of their Twin culture-heroes, who rules over darkness.
Masks sometimes carry magic power which protects their wearers against sorcerers and those who would harm them. On the other hand, members of secret societies use them to impose their will through fear.
Masks are agents to control the movements of spiritual energies scattered throughout the world and all the more dangerous for being unseen. Masks are designed to subjugate and control the invisible world. Trap them to stop their wandering.
Orange is known as a symbol of strength and endurance, often represented today by pumpkins, carved or not. FYI, A New Hampshire man has grown the largest pumpkin ever recorded in U.S. history – weighing in at an incredible 2,528 pounds. Steve Geddes of Boscawen, N.H., won $6,000 in prize money at the Deerfield Fair for his first place pumpkin on September 29, 2018.
As a color midway between yellow and red, it’s primary symbolism is that of the balance point between the spirit and the libido.
Black is frequently seen as a symbol of death and darkness, a reminder that Halloween festivals once marked the boundaries between life and death.
Black is most often seen as cold and negative, nothingness and chaos, confusion and disorder, a symbol of evil, and the color of death.
Black is the color of melancholy, pessimism, sorrow, and misfortune.
Brown and gold are typically the symbolism of autumn and harvest. Corn stalks and hay bales are common representatives today. Scarecrows symbolize the agricultural roots of Halloween.
Brown is the color of earth and excrement. At various times, in various cultures, it has been the color of melancholy, humility, poverty, and sadism.
In Ireland, brown shared all the underworld and warlike symbolism of black.
Gold and light are symbols knowledge leading to immortality. If it is used well, in the search for knowledge, it brings happiness. Otherwise it brings disaster. The color gold and the pure metal are solar symbols, but “minted gold” is a symbol of perversion and the exaltation of unclean desire, the spiritual degraded to the level of the material, the immortal to the mortal.
In Greek tradition, gold is associated with the sun—and thus fertility, wealth, dominion, a center of warmth, love and generosity, the fire of light, knowledge and radiance.
In ancient times, the Celts put treats on their doorsteps and in the streets to provide offerings to placate the spirits who roamed the streets at Samhain, a sacred festival that marked the end of the Celtic calendar year.
“Souling” is a medieval Christian precursor to modern trick-or-treating. On “Hallowmas” (Nov. 1) the poor would go from house to house, offering prayers for the dead in exchange for soul cakes.
Early door-to-door begging involved the poor seeking coins.
Some trace trick-or-treating to the practice of mumming or guysinging, which involved costumed people going door-to-door performing prepared dances, songs, and plays in exchange for treats. This was common in Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man, and Wales.
The first known mention of trick-or-treating in North America was 1927, in Canada.
October 31 is traditionally the time when the spirits of the dead are allowed a last fling before winter sets in. In Ireland, it’s said that if you hear footsteps behind you on that night, it is one of the dead following you and you never look around lest you see him or her and soon become one of them.
During celebrations of Samhain, bonfires were lit to ensure that the sun would return after the long, hard winter. Even earlier, worshipers of Baal, the Syrian sun-god, built fires in his honor about the same time of year as Halloween. Around 837, when Pope Gregory IV declared Nov. 1 as All Saints Day, people believed that ghosts and goblins were abroad on the eve of All Saints Day and built great bonfires to keep them away.
To banish evil spirits, walk around your house three times backward and counterclockwise before sunset on Halloween.
Hallowe’en dates back to about 1745 and is of Christian origin. Halloween is short for Hallows Eve, which was the evening before All Hallows (sanctified or holy) Day, also known as Hallowmas on Nov. 1.
In Mexico, people dress up like ghouls and parade in the streets to celebrate The Day of the Dead on All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2).
Teng Chieh (Lantern Festival) is one Halloween celebration in China in which dragon and other animal lanterns are put out to guide spirits back to their earthly homes. Food and water to honor their deceased loved ones are placed by ancestral portraits. In Hong Kong Yue Lan (Festival of the Hungry Ghosts) includes fires, food, and gifts to placate angry ghosts looking for revenge.
San-Apple Night and Nutcrack Night are names derived from the ancient Roman Festival of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds. Halloween customs and games that feature nuts and apples (such as candied apples and bobbing for apples) have their roots here. Apples are strongly associated with the otherworld and immortality, while hazelnuts were associated with divine wisdom.
In some American towns, Halloween was referred to as Cabbage Night, and the use of cabbage in a Scottish fortune-telling game. BTW, there are many old traditions in which girls can “see” their future husbands on Halloween. Several other fortune telling activities involve apple peels, pairs of hazelnuts near open fires, salty oatmeal bannocks, or items symbolizing the future hidden in food (e.g., a cake), or stones around the remains of a bonfire.
Besides those mentioned above, Halloween has been called Witches Night, Lamswool, Snap-Apple Night, and Summer’s End.
BOTTOM LINE: Everything associated with Halloween has deep roots and multiple meanings. Know what you’re symbolizing! And incidentally, make your characters know, too.
FYI: Samhainophobia is the fear of Halloween!