Halloween has undergone a strange transformation over the past few centuries.
The season originated as a pagan festival celebrating the harvest. It was later co-opted by Catholic missionaries who needed a fall bookend to the spring festivities to which they'd attached a celebration of Christ's resurrection.
Thus, All Saint's Day was born, preceded by All Hallow's Eve, all of it the pre-winter counterpoint to the spring awakening of Easter. And for a few hundred years everyone coexisted just fine.
Then, just in the past couple of decades, some Christian churches began turning away from the holiday their ancestors had righteously stolen. Rather than celebrating Halloween, which many misinterpret as Satanic, a large number of faith communities now hold fall or harvest festivals.
Just like the pagans.
I grew up out in the Columbia County countryside, back when Halloween was still a simple children's holiday, free of adults' silly political and religious hangups. Now grownups have put a corporate stamp on it, making Halloween Inc. one of the country's biggest adult occasions. But back in the day the concept of adult costumes or mass-produced trick-or-treat candy was confined to theoretical big cities we'd never been to.
Kids' costumes back then were pretty much either an old bed sheet with holes cut in it, or a high-falutin' and highly flammable store-bought suit with a molded, colored plastic mask held on by an elastic string.
That also was long before kids were taught to be scared to knock on strangers' doors and say "Trick or treat!," and long before hysterical nonsense about poison-laced candy or razor-blade-spiked apples.
But more fundamentally, that was before candy makers packaged their confections in individual, gift-size wrappers. Only in recent years have manufacturers produced bags full of little candy bars decorated with Halloween colors.
Back in those days - and I'm only talking 40 years ago, so it's not like ancient history - most Halloween treats were homemade. Rice Krispie treats and popcorn balls were pretty popular (and cheap), as were cookies or caramel apples.
Out in Winfield, we lived too far from anyone else to walk door to door trick-or-treating. My closest neighbor growing up, other than my grandparents, lived a quarter-mile away down the dirt road. So to trick or treat, mom would put us in the car and drive to the homes of a few friends and relatives. At most, we might get treats from eight or 10 homes - and came home feeling like we'd hit the jackpot.
The best home was that of a kindly old woman who handed out individual, ribbon-tied bags filled with homemade goodies. Wonderful stuff.
These days? Wow. Halloween is a "harvest" festival, all right. Kids from infancy to young adulthood hit the streets before dusk, running door to door in a high-speed candy-haul.
Manufacturers make it easier by mass-producing bags of candy to fill the children's buckets. That woman and her ribbon-tied bags is a rarity; who has time to fix up individual goodie bags for the sugar-hunting hordes, especially when it's so convenient to hit the grocery store and get it all pre-wrapped?
But I miss those little bags. At the end of the night, how many of our children could pick one item out of their bulging sacks and say, "This came from the little old lady near the church," or "this came from my cousin's house"?
Oh, well. Maybe there's something to be said for the churches' modern reversion to paganism, after all. At least nature worshipers don't have to worry about such Christian sins as greed or gluttony.
Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal at newstimesonline.com.
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