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Richard Crowson Commentary

Richard Crowson: Halloween Traditions


There’s a memorable Halloween night scene in the book To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. The story’s protagonist, 6-year old Scout is walking home after dark from a Halloween school program. Scout is still wearing her clumsy chicken wire and paper costume from the program in which children represent different agricultural products: she’s dressed as a cured ham.

In the book, the whole reason for the staging of the Halloween night pageant is to redirect the energies of the town’s youth away from the tradition of playing tricks on their elders.

Trick-or-treating originated in ancient days, as something called “a-souling.” People wore disguises so that evil spirits wouldn’t recognize them as they went door-to-door collecting cake treats called “soul cakes” in return for their prayers for the dead. Pumpkin carving is an American version of what was originally turnip carving. Halloween’s traditions have disguised themselves over the centuries but appear to have supernatural longevity.

One of the old traditions that we no longer hear about was a somewhat hazardous method for predicting one’s next lover. You were supposed to hold a mirror as you walked backwards down the basement stairs on Halloween night. The face that appeared in the mirror would be that of your next lover. Hmm. I wonder if this method could also predict which candidate the voters will choose.

All the politicians who are mugging it up, begging for our votes remind me of costumed hams considerably more devious than Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. Some disguise themselves as reformers. Some want to carve up public education. Some intend to play tricks on their elders.

On Halloween and on Election Day, be cautious. These are traditionally scary days.