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The Spirit of Halloween
When Ghosts and Goblins Come Out to Play

by Yvonne Liu

Ahhh-the air is crisp and refreshing. Leaves are slowly turning colors and falling, scattering resplendent shades of yellow, orange, red, and brown all over. Okay, perhaps this isn't quite happening everywhere in America, but, take my word for it, it does occur. Yes, autumn is here, and Halloween is just around the corner.

Driving around, I see pumpkin patches full of people. Those who prefer to buy theirs from supermarkets have already taken the nicer-looking ones home. The malls are packed with people buying masks and other parts of their costumes. Supermarket shoppers are filling their carts with packages of mini Snickers, Twix, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, and everything else that kids like.

Most people I know have scared themselves silly by going various haunted houses and such. Others plan on partying the night away, dressed as vampires, the occasional pirate, a nun, and whatever else their creative minds have come up with. But, whatever the case may be, why do we celebrate Halloween? And, if almost everyone is in the swing of things, why isn't it declared a national holiday with paid vacation time off?

The word "Halloween" itself is rooted in the Catholic Church. All Saints Day is a Catholic day of observance in honor of the saints falling on November 1. In the fifth century B.C., summer officially ended on October 31 in Celtic Ireland. Legend said on that day, bodiless spirits that died throughout the preceding year would come back looking for new bodies to possess for the following year. Of course, none of the living wanted to be possessed, so on the night of October 31, the villagers would make their homes look uninviting to these spirits by extinguishing the fires. They would also dress up as ghouls and goblins to scare away those roaming spirits. By Roman times, people were less inclined to believe in spirit possession. Thus, the practice of dressing up for Halloween became more ceremonial.

Halloween came to the U.S. in the 1840s by way of Irish immigrants. Most of the revelers at the time enjoyed tipping over outhouses and unhinging fence gates, causing a great ruckus in the otherwise sleepy towns of New England.

The jack-o-lantern tradition was also adapted to the new environment. Supposedly, a notorious trickster by the name of Jack tricked the devil into climbing a tree. Jack carved the image of a cross onto that tree, thereby trapping the devil. He then proceeded to make a deal with Satan, saying he would only let him go if he promised never to tempt Jack again. I guess Satan agreed, for when Jack died he was not admitted through the pearly gates to Heaven because of his wild ways, and even Satan would not let him pass through the gates of hell. Instead, Jack wandered through an in-between realm, guided by a single ember placed inside a hollowed-out turnip that the devil had given him. When Irish immigrants came to America, they found plenty of pumpkins (well, more than turnips) to continue this tradition.

Okay, so there you have it. Now we know why there is such a holiday as Halloween floating around. But seriously, why is this such a popular day? The answer is simple. How many times a year can we receive candy, and mind you it's free, for looking like Bozo the Clown or Snow White? Yep, this was a good idea. Halloween is cool.

Yvonne Liu is a resident of sunny Southern California and a recent graduate of Scripps College, Claremont. Currently, she is working as an associate editor for an automotive publication, and is still trying to pay off her student loans. When she's not sleeping or eating, she can be found typing away at her computer (e-mail, of course).

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