Halloween is about pumpkins, ghosts, black cats and, most of all, witches. The holiday, like so many others, sprung out of a Celtic/Wiccan celebration. Samhain (pronounced SOW-win) is a festival of the harvest, the end of the Celtic year, and a time when the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead is thinnest. Celebrants would light bonfires and wear costumes to disguise themselves so the angered dead would not recognize them and exact revenge. Families would leave offerings outside the home as a sacrifice to the leprechauns to appease them and, hopefully, ward off their prankish interests. And, of course, everyone would feast on all the pumpkinspiced fall favorites.
Over the years, other aspects of Roman holidays were mixed in and some of the traditions evolved, but the heart of the festival stayed the same. The church adopted the holiday in the eighth century when Pope Gregory III declared Nov. 1 as All Saints Day. But these ancient Samhain traditions couldn’t be stamped out, even by all the saints, so they were incorporated into All Hallows’ Eve, which later was shortened to Halloween.
Just as all the saints couldn’t stop these Celtic traditions, the equally ancient Celtic practice of spell-casting couldn’t be completely halted by the march of Christendom, even when it came to the New World. Witchcraft was at one time the biggest fear in America. And although those accused of witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts were likely innocent of even simple spell-casting, the mania that overtook the townspeople led to the executions of 14 women and six men. This cemented the town’s connection to witchcraft forever.
So what better place is there to spend Halloween?
My wife and I will be heading to Salem for its gigantic Halloween celebration. I’m sure it would enrage the Puritan prosecutors of the Witch trials to know that, thanks to their efforts, Salem is now descended upon yearly by psychics, practicing witches and warlocks, massive covens and magic-users of all types for a month-long party featuring every manner of spell-casting, ceremony and rite imaginable. My wife is Wiccan and excited to be among fellow pagans for a week of seances and partying.
For my interests, we will see the best of Boston and the surrounding area, with all the Revolutionary War history and Ivy League college museums I can talk her into. And apparently, in other parts of the country, it gets chilly in fall and the leaves change colors, providing beautiful weather and scenic drives. We wouldn’t know, being from LA where it’s still going to be in the mid-80s to low 100s through the weekend.
Happy Halloween – your pumpkin melted.
We will have full coverage next week in CV Weekly but, for those who want to see it all in real time, follow me on Instagram: @Flynn42 and on Twitter: @CharlyIsAwesome. If anyone has any suggestions of cool things to do or places to eat in Boston and around, send me a message and you might see it happen.