Family

Might as well change Thanksgiving to Saturday while we’re at it

Like millions of Americans, I stood at my front door on one of the last days in October and handed out candy to pirates, princesses and vampires.

I took pictures of the cutest costumes and commiserated with parents who were glad the rain held off.

I also groused about the fact that it was broad daylight.

And not really Halloween.

Like many American communities, our northeast Ohio town holds controlled trick-or-treating between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. on a weekend day before the real Halloween, Oct. 31.

The idea, taken up by some communities but not others, which splits the country into different times of celebration, is now being promoted nationwide by the Halloween & Costume Association.

Maintaining that trick-or-treating on a weekend afternoon is safer than trick-or-treating on Halloween night, the organization is calling for the whole country to embrace a National Trick or Treat Day on the Saturday before Halloween.

Changing the time when we collectively celebrate Halloween, meanwhile, tampers with tradition dating back 2,000 years.

It was the ancient Celts who originated today's Halloween when they recognized sunset Oct. 31 to sunset Nov. 1 as the festival of Samhain. This was a time of celebration and ritual when death (harvest time) took over the fields and people were confronted with the question of whether there would be enough in store to survive the winter and plant in the spring, according to Samhain historians. Oct. 31 was a "hallowed eve" when the veil between the life and death was thinnest. Celebrants would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts, releasing and letting go of negative energy and celebrating the new energy that would take its place. Astute observers of the sky, Celts specifically chose Oct. 31 because it was midway between the fall equinox and the winter solstice. This was a powerful turning point in the wheel of the year, based in agriculture and an organic experience of the seasons and signifying the cycle of life, death and rebirth.

Changing the time when we celebrate Halloween also flies in the face of my own tradition and memory.

As a child, I loved knowing that across the land, we were all celebrating something at the same time that I didn't quite understand, that kids from Idaho to Florida could hardly get through the school day in their excitement to get home to perfect homemade costumes while stuffing down hot dogs and waiting for the chill of night to descend. Only when darkness came would we hit the streets, first, in the case of my three sisters and me, our neighborhood streets, and then the streets of my rich uncle's house where we would end with hot chocolate.

Capping the Halloween mystique for me and my Catholic sisters was All Saints' Day the next day. One of seven Catholic holy days of obligation, which meant we didn't have to go to school although we did have to go to Mass, and with a nod again to Celtic tradition, All Saints' Day was a day to commemorate the dead who got to heaven. This was followed by All Souls' Day on Nov. 2, which was a day to help atone for those souls who were still in purgatory, the place between heaven and hell.

This left no doubt in my mind that Halloween held a deeper meaning beyond my cat costume; I remember asking questions about dead people and saints and what is a soul and where do people go when they die.

On its face, I understand why 150,000 people signed an online petition, distributed by the Halloween association, asking for a separate trick-or-treat day on the Saturday before Halloween. The association specifically points to working parents being more able to participate on weekends, and, most emphatically, to children being less likely to be killed in a traffic accident during daytime trick-or-treating.

"Children are more than twice as likely to be hit by a car and killed on Halloween." says the association.

Only, analysis doesn't fully bear out this last point. An average 5.5 children may have been killed every year between 1990 and 2010, according to a study by State Farm Insurance and Sperling's Best Places. And while it's true this is more than twice the average 2.6 fatalities for other days, who's to say this wouldn't be the case on other trick-or-treat days if they were likewise analyzed?

The question remains whether it's Halloween night itself or children roaming the streets in hordes any time that is the problem.

The question that also begs to be asked is what else is in it for the halloween association, comprised of the manufacturers and distributors of all things Halloween and representing a $9 billion annual business?

They said it themselves: Double Halloween.

"NTTD (also referred to as ALLoween) is just an additional day to celebrate Halloween," spokeswoman Aneisha McMillan told USA Today.

Even if Halloween could officially be changed, which would require the federal government to first declare Halloween a federal holiday and then change the date, changing Halloween doesn't absolutely get at anything in this crone's mind, except interfering with tradition, which takes away meaning, which gives the power to trick-or-treating kids instead of the wise adults who made great cleansing bonfires, altars and special foods to herald in a new season.

One counter idea making the online rounds is to keep Halloween where it is and make it a holiday.

And while we're at it, the day after.

I just remember there being nothing better than lying in bed the day after Halloween, not having to go to school, basking in the memory of the eve before, clutching a bagful of candy.

Even if we did have to get up eventually and go to church.

No matter, it was tradition.

(Debra-Lynn B. Hook of Kent, Ohio, has been writing about family life since 1988 when she was pregnant with the first of her three children. E-mails are welcome at dlbhook@yahoo.com..)

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