This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, November 1, 1995

November 1, 1995 - halloween

Although it usually either rained or snowed on me, I have always loved Halloween.

I do have one very clear memory of a "good" Halloween night: a tide of leaves, a wanton wind, a harvest moon, and hordes of little people in outrageous costumes, jostling up and down the streets with their bags of booty. For a child, Halloween is a wonderful, thrilling opportunity: to dress up, to walk in the dark, to MAKE adults give you candy.

At another level, Halloween worked on me as a strong seasonal song: the last hours of autumn, the harbinger of winter. (The purpose of the candy, I now imagine, was to build up the fat reserves required to survive the Midwest cold.)

So part of me is deeply puzzled by the strong resistance of some people to the very idea of Halloween. Some people object to its description as a holiday. They argue that "holiday" means "holy day," and Halloween isn't -- although it often incorporates "occult" elements (witches, goblins, ghosts) which are seen by some as contrary to certain Christian beliefs.

Yet we call many other days "holidays" that don't have any particular religious significance, but do have a part in our national or cultural life. "Halloween" to me is just what my encyclopedia calls it: "a festival."

Like many other festivals, Halloween picks up and transforms many bits of folklore. For instance, "Jack-o'-Lanterns," which in England and Ireland were made of carved beets, potatoes, and turnips, in America became candled pumpkins.

Where did the term "Jack-o'-Lanterns" come from? According to World Book, they were named for a man called Jack, who was such a miser that he couldn't enter heaven; but because he'd played jokes on the devil, couldn't enter hell either. As a result, Jack had to walk the earth with his lantern until Judgment Day.

Probably the earliest source of Halloween was the Celtic, or Druidic, festival called Samhain, celebrated more than 2,000 years ago. The Celts believed that Samhain, the Celtic lord of death, allowed the deceased to roam the earth for one night each year.

But the Catholic Church, as it did in so many cases, appropriated the cultural practice, and incorporated it into its own theology. In 800 A.D., the Church established All Saint's Day on November 1, for which a Mass was said called Allhallowmass. The evening before was called All Hallow e'en -- Halloween.

But I can assure you that as a child I never knew (nor would I have cared) about either of these historical tidbits. Even now that I do know, carving a pumpkin doesn't make me a Catholic, and trick-or-treating doesn't make my children little Druids.

These days I'm on the giving, rather than the receiving end of Halloween. But just as I take pleasure in the festival itself, I also take pleasure in learning a little bit more about it. Libraries are good for stuff like that, incidentally.

On both sides of a vast ocean, for one night each year, millions of children have touched that same sense of magic and mystery and the unfurling of time -- all through a festival that is itself more than two millennia old.

In my book, that's a traditional family value.

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