Thank The Irish For Halloween

So it’s the first week in November, the gauntlet for the initial kickoff to the holiday season slowly winds down and the circuitry of the cerebral cortex seems to be up and running again, and so back at full power, contemplation begins…

I think to myself about all the ghouls and goblins, sexy nurses and schoolgirls, vampires, skeletons, pirates, pimps, a half dozen superheroes and at least one Beetlejuice running amuck amidst the glorious pageantry witnessed over the past week. In addition, the candy and horror movies that I’ve binged on to top it off.

I remember somewhere, perhaps in the middle of a booze soaked pub conversation, perhaps in a classroom deep back in the memory bank, that the Irish are to thank for all these people running around in costumes getting loaded and handing out candy during the end of October. Certainly it doesn’t take beer goggles to recognise the pagan elements within this festivity and so it seems that there must be some kind of link absent of Jesus. I scratch my head trying to put the pieces together of just how do the Irish fit in Michael Jackson’s Thriller? Better still, how does ancient Celtic tradition align itself with fishnet stockings, pigtails, and Captain America, I wonder. Well, if there’s anyone and anything that can clear all this up for us, it’s Dr. Wikipedia.

The good doctor states that Halloween is connected to Celtic Gaelic festivals, stories of Irish mythology literature and all other magical “little people” who flourish across the Emerald Isle. It speaks of Romans coming to the British Isles and bringing with them the apple tree, which gives us the apple-bobbing contests. The Jack O’ Lantern traces from funeral masks that were originally carved from turnips, but when immigrants arrived in the States they found the pumpkin not only plentiful in comparison, but also more manageable because of its softer texture (hmm, makes sense).

Traditional Irish Jack O' Lantern on display in Museum of Country Life. Turlough Village, Castlebar, Co. Mayo.

Traditional Irish Jack O’ Lantern on display in the Museum of Country Life. Turlough Village, Castlebar, Co. Mayo.

I’ve never been to Ireland and I ask for an honest pardon on the fact, for it’s not from any lack of interest but rather opportunity. However, the imagination that persists within the minds of most Americans, particularly those of Irish descent such as myself, is that Ireland is equivalent to the Shire out of a Lord of the Rings novel, complete with magical creatures and strange misty enchanted forests; deep, luscious green fields filled with sheep, and rocky cliffs below ominous grey, cloudy skies blown in from heavy winds off the choppy, waved coastline. So, it seems perfectly natural that all sorts of Halloween type stories and mythology would come from a place such as this. My mind begins to travel with this thought, into the tales of the Tuatha Dé Danann and the early stories of Gaelic mythology. Cú Chulain and the Hound of Culain is one of my personal favourites. Rich and full of fairies and witchcraft, spirits that walk the Earth and especially, the iconic leprechaun. Still though, no sign of knee-high stockings or break dancing zombies, then again, I’m no expert on Gaelic mythology and so perhaps I missed a chapter.

"Traditional" Halloween Dress

“Traditional” Halloween Dress

But whatever its roots, we can look in one direction to the current, suspect idea of Halloween festivities. A place just as magical, enchanting, and mysterious; full of pageantry, costumes, and more makeup than one can find on any other place on the planet: Hollywood, California.

It’s the movies that really shape our modern concepts of Halloween, isn’t it? They have embedded in our consciousness ideas of how we should celebrate- and what we should wear- during such an event. Character outfits and mannerisms portrayed by Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Claude Rains, Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Tim Burton and so on. Movies like, well you know all the Halloween classics. These are the real forefathers of Halloween, and I could be wrong but my gut tells me that not too many come directly from Ireland. But that shouldn’t matter, right? It’s all about fun. Halloween remains as one of the last bastions of pure carnal pleasure and expression. (Keep in mind this whole contemplation piece focuses on the Adult experience of Halloween. No G-rated version here, I’m afraid. And don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favour of leaning back in a recliner next to a bowl of assorted cookies, candies, and chocolates, with A Nightmare Before Christmas on TV, with the whole family happily gathered around.)

And for those of you who aren’t into the spirit I say, where else can a guy embrace his closeted urge to wear a dress, high heels, and two coats of makeup while having absolutely no questioning by anyone of his sexuality; where else can the most socially timid girls flaunt their ass-ets in the skimpiest of outfits mainly reserved for pornography sets, without the slightest bit of reproach or shame; where else can children stay up late eating sugar like crack addicts until they feel dizzy and sick.

Halloween is a symbol of freedom; it’s a symbol of pure honest hedonism that brings us back to the good old days when we would dance around bonfires, howling at the moon. It’s a symbol of our ancient past, a time before the Church told us it was wrong to fornicate with our neighbours, and wildly run naked through the woods, high on hallucinogenic mushrooms. I mean, suppose that’s what made them so enchanting in the first place.

And so I conclude this textual contemplation with a thank you note, and the potential start to a future addition to the Halloween tradition. Perhaps in a world where books have become mere fossils, and the Internet is all that holds knowledge, hopefully the links still connect Halloween to the Irish. Therefore, with a friendly gesture of a “tip of the hat” and an honest wink, I raise a pumpkin ale and say cheers to all the pagan barbarians frolicking in the forests of Ireland for giving us Halloween.