In the course of pet ownership, the strange and bizarre behavior of your beloved animal will eventually terrify or astound you. During over 30 years of practice, I have been amazed at the diversity, quantity, and quite frankly, the serendipitous nature of objects that a pet will consume. I found that the holidays bring a spike in phone calls from clients and texts from friends who are honestly distraught over what recently went into or came out of their animal. From remote controls, broken glass, lingerie, mulch, legos, entire bottles of glue, or yo-yos, to the potently toxic things like chocolate, raisins, onions, illegal drugs, and so on, this list is truly mindboggling. My how the canine emergency has diversified since the ingestion of a single chicken bone. In a way, it is not surprising because haven’t we also experienced similar multiplication in the diversity and quantity of things that we process in our daily lives? And, much akin to our pets, we may wander into these situations somewhat serendipitously.
Consider Our Tradition of Halloween: Celtic and Roman Origins
History.com has a thorough article on the origins of Halloween which I will briefly recount here to give some context. Some may argue that the genesis of Halloween is as distant as the Babylonians or Assyrians, but the root of the Western tradition appears out of some age-old European traditions. The Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced “sow-in”) is over 2000 years old and marked the beginning of their new year on November 1st. On the night before the new year or October 31st, they believed the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. They tied this phenomenon to the coming of the cold winter, crop death, and the end of the harvest season. The Druids or Celtic priests, dressed in costumes of animal heads and skins performed incantation rituals to prophesy about the future and provide hope. Around 43 A.D., after 400 years of conquest by the Roman Empire, the Roman festivals of Feralia which commemorated the passing of the dead, and Pomona, in honor of the goddess of fruit and trees were grafted into the festival. It is interesting to note that this festival was part of Roman tradition during the life of Christ.
Martyrdom and the Response of the Modern Church
As Christianity spread, the Catholic church sought to honor Christian martyrs, then all saints and martyrs and supplanted the Celtic traditions by 1000 A.D. The nomenclature and gradual movement of the day from November 1st to October 31st were traditionally All Saints Day (All-hallows or All-hallowmas) and the night before named “All-Hallows-Eve” or eventually Halloween. Interestingly enough, the costumes, story-telling, and mischief were retained in the tradition. The European culture also included the belief that on Halloween ghosts came back to the earthly world, and in fear of encountering one of these spirits, people would wear masks when they left their home after dark to disguise their identity. Also, bowls of food would be left outside their house to appease the ghosts and discourage them from entering.
The Protestant Reformation was not far behind when on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted his “95 Theses” on the door of the All Saints’ Church in Wittenburg, Germany. Reformation Day was established as an alternative or parallel celebration to Halloween. Interestingly enough this October 31st marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. An interesting footnote is that our modern day observance of Halloween in America has grown into the “family friendly” version in only the last 60 years since its commercialization during the late 1950s. This year alone it is predicted that 25% of all the candy sold in the United States will be purchased toward Halloween, and consumers will spend over 6 billion dollars on this holiday alone, coming in second only to Christmas.
Serendipitous Transition or Intersection of Tradition with Opportunity?
The history of Halloween shows that over 2000 years transpired for a Celtic tradition consisting of a desire to know about the future was adopted and integrated into the mainstream by the Romans, affected by the Church, westernized into America, and then morphed into a commercial enterprise in our lifetime. Just like our pet in the first illustration, could the concept of Halloween be something we stumbled upon and ultimately consumed? To a dog or a cat, they are attracted first by the novelty, then enticed by the exploration with their senses, and if interesting enough, will engulf the entire substance. Sometimes we humans behave the same way. The outcome might be innocuous, fulfilling, or even pleasant for a while. To others, the experience is toxic, painful, and even dangerous.
I find it interesting that the response to “ghosts” was to wear a mask and attempt to bribe the spirits with food. In fact, we all wear masks and try to gain favor because of our failure to meet God’s standard. If people knew who we really were behind the facade, would we still have their acceptance and respect? My purpose here is not to vilify the 2000 year history of Halloween, but to show that its significance remains in how we respond to it. What if our response were different than that of the Druids, Romans, and the like. Instead of fearing the darkness, and spirits in the dark places, we chose to be the light of hope and generosity on October 31st? Let this be food for thought when you put a candle in your Jack O’lantern this year or hand out candy to youngsters. Oh, and by the way don’t be stingy with the candy- give out plenty. Just remember to keep it away from the dog.