Live up to the legacy of Halloween

By Becky Wandel

(Erica Lowenkron/ Daily Collegian)
(Erica Lowenkron/ Daily Collegian)

As a college student, I seem to always be searching for camaraderie with my classmates. All the “big ideas” I have about this campus, and all the articles I write about it, end up focusing on my pursuit of amity with my peers: “Finding togetherness with strangers,” as one editor put it.

Forgive me then for my redundancy, but Halloween is coming up and I just have to write about togetherness again.

The history of Halloween indulges me here, as it began as a festival of human solidarity – against ghosts. Two thousand years ago, the ancient Celts of Ireland celebrated their New Year on Nov. 1. That day marked the end of the prosperous summer and the beginning of the long, dark winter – a truly dangerous season for a people so dependent on the land.

On the eve of this great transition from prosperity to poverty, from life to death (the night of Oct. 31), it was believed that the channels that separated the living from the dead were opened. Ghosts unearthed themselves to wreak havoc on the human world, and humans banded together over bonfires, dancing and divination to face them.

The Celts used the festivities of Oct. 31 to respond to their fear of the winter. The response they staged was an indulgent celebration of all the horror the winter might bring to them. During these festivities, the Celts were known to make bonfires, prophesize by way of apple-bobbing and dressing up as the ghosts they thought were lurking about. Halloween was a celebration; a night where a terrified community, emboldened by the high of festivity and the invincibility of fellowship, invited the very thing it feared the most to meet its members face-to-face. On Halloween, together, the Celts ordered the inexorable to come.

Okay, I may be getting a little histrionic here, but you can’t blame me, it’s Halloween. Ghost stories, dramatic performances and self-indulgences are included, right?

My point is that Halloween, the holiday we will all be celebrating this weekend, is no different than the dramatic, high-stakes Halloween that the Celts celebrated so many years ago. We, like them, will spend the night of Oct. 31 in the thralls of festivity and we, like them, will invite death and fright, in the forms of adventure, costume and risky behavior, to our parties to dance. It is only the mythology that has changed.

You see, the Celts were afraid of famine, of head-hunting warriors and of being conquered by the Roman Empire, that’s why they celebrated Halloween. So then why do we? What are we so afraid of? What bump in the night, what shadow of winter, what herald of doom, haunts us?

I’ll let you figure that one out.

But while you’re working on it, don’t forget to enjoy your Halloween. And don’t miss your chance this year to imagine you and your friends as those eternal Celts: backs to the wind and eyes on the moon, standing together, facing what they fear the most and beckoning it closer with the promise of a most gruesome party.

Becky Wandel is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]