October 28, 2012

Halloween a time for superstition, celebration


---- — Do you say “hallo-ween” or “hollo-ween”?

If I had to guess, I’d say many people would admit to the second pronunciation. Truth is it’s not hollow at all. It’s hallow. Far be it from me to be a Halloween policeman, but saying it right might be a good way to tune up for the 31st. There are no demerits for making it a hollow holiday. This is just for fun.

I can’t find a use of the word Halloween until the 1500s, but some scholars trace the celebration back to my Celtic ancestors thousands of years ago. Halloween is no doubt a variation of what was called All Hallows’ Eve. I’m pretty sure my Irish ancestors brought Halloween with them to this country during and after the infamous potato famine and really got the holiday cranked up in America in the mid-19th century.

I’m interested in the origins of Halloween because it was believed to be a time when the door was opened between this world and the place where spirits exist. I’m sure ghost stories have been around since the beginning, but All Hallows’ Eve became the focus. Everyone knows my interest in collecting and writing ghost stories, so Halloween is a really cool time for me.

I got to tell my stories around a couple giant bonfires again this year, and that makes them even more special. The bonfires have also been around as part of the celebration for at least a couple thousand years. Those Celts really knew their stuff, didn’t they?

Costumes? History tells us people dressed up in the olden days to ward off the evil spirits who tried to come back and possess the living, raising havoc and killing all the crops. It was also a time when the living could communicate with the spirits and predict the future. That, to me, was so fascinating that I have spent much of my adult life studying the paranormal.

During the Celtic festival of Samhain, as it was called, it was common for celebrants to tell the fortunes of others, and it was also popular to toss stones into the bonfires. I have read of the belief that if you couldn’t find your stone after the fire went out, you wouldn’t live through the following year. That alone would have turned me off to the practice.

We all know about Martin Luther and the Reformation. His new protestant religion had no saints, so there would be no All Hallows’ Day for him and his followers. The Puritans in New England hated Halloween because they viewed it as a pagan custom. It was initially outlawed in their settlements.

My own parents refused to let us celebrate as very small children when my dad was involved in what was called a fundamental protestant group. Once he joined the far more liberal Methodist Church, we embraced it and my mother dressed us up in homemade costumes every year. I’ve written about my mother outfitting me as a lion in Massena Center and making the tail so long, other trick-or-treaters stepped on it all night long and I ended up with a bad case of whiplash.

Do I love Halloween? What do you think? For me and for many, it’s a great time for superstition and celebration. There are adults in their 50s who remember the scary sounds coming from the trees around our Morrisonville home on Oct. 31 and the ghoulish coffin that greeted them in our front hallway. I wore horrible rubber masks and jumped at them to inspire sheer terror. Today — not so much. And we no longer have our beloved dogs to greet every trick-or-treater.

I’m happy that vandalism on Halloween is almost a thing of the past, and there are no longer threats of people “doctoring” candy to injure the little ones. I’m also thrilled to see all the indoor community events to keep children safe, and I commend all of you who are part of the local haunted houses and special public and private parties.

Have a happy Halloween — no matter how you pronounce it — and please, drive carefully.

Gordie Little was for many years a well-known radio personality in the North Country and now hosts the “Our Little Corner” television program for Home Town Cable. Anyone with comments for him may send them to the newspaper or email him at