October 31, 2016
I guess we're all stocking candy in for the Trick-or-Treaters tonight. I loved Halloween, as all kids do, and I can recall that one of the darker days of my young life occurred when my parents informed me I was getting too old to go around knocking on doors and asking for goodies. I don't recall how old I was at the time, but I remember concluding that my best days were behind me.
Halloween has Celtic roots. It apparently dates back somewhere around two thousand years to pagan days. The world got dark and cold at the end of summer, which was recognized by the festival Samhain, celebrated October 31. The Celts believed that the dead came back on that night, that demons and evil spirits ran loose, and I suppose that it was a good time to turn the heat up. The festival marked the end of the old year and the beginning of the new one.
The Celts wore costumes usually made from animal skins in the belief that they could scare off the demons and ghosts. They also visited wealthier neighbors, performed tricks and songs for them, and hoped for handouts, which they must have received since the tradition seems to have survived.
The Samhain festival spread to the British Isles, influenced the decision of the Catholic Church to celebrate All-Saints Day on November 1, and of course eventually became a popular event for kids across the USA.
I guess we all enjoy getting into costumes. My own favorite came back in 1957, when I attended a party dressed as a Roman centurion. I especially liked the horsehair helmet. But nobody was prepared to take me seriously. Friends spent time throughout the evening cautioning me not to hurt myself with the sword.
One of my favorite pleasures at SF conventions has always been the costume contest. And of course, nobody outdoes Dragoncon in that department. We've all watched Superman, Batman, Captain America, Dick Tracy, and the others stroll around showing off their outfits. Several years ago, Dragoncon gave us an Uhura who could have stepped right off the movie screen. And I know I've told this story before: I was going out the front door. Immediately behind me was Wonder Woman. The uniform was perfect, and the young woman wearing it took the part so well that I started hoping someone out on the street would jump me. If I was ever going to get in trouble, that would have been the time.
But of course you can never find a thug when you need one.