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October 31, 2014

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Page 4 POST-GAZETTE, OCTOBER 31,2014 L'Anno Bello: A Year in Italian Folklore Halloween's Haunted History by Ally Di Censo Symynkywicz Outside my bedroom window, the trees are nearly bare• A few yellow leaves wave tentatively against spindly dark branches, while the forest ground is blanketed with hues of orange and red. As I make my way to work every morning, toothy jack-o-lanterns grin eerily at me from the win- dows and doorways of neigh- borhood homes. A wicked wind howls during the pitch- black night, calling me into the cozy quarters of the in- doors. Yes, it is time for Hal- loween, the spookiest holi- day of the year and-the night when witches and ghosts exit from our subconscious and enter everyday life. It is a day of mystery, when noth- ing is what it appears. Hal- loween happens to be one of my favorite holidays, for it brims with the possibility of the unexpected and reminds me that much of the world remains unknown (of course, the prevalence of chocolate helps, too). But from where did this macabre and bizarre holiday origi- nate? The history of Hallow- een is just as complex and as multifaceted as the plot of a gripping suspense film. From its origins in a pre- Christian harvest festival to its association with the Catholic feasts of All Saints' and All Souls' Day, the Hal- loween story crisscrosses the world with fascinating and unique traditions. The ancient Celts cel- ebrated a holiday called Samhain ("sow-en," where "sow" rhymes with "cow") on November Ist, with festivi- ties beginning the evening before. Samhain was con- sidered the first day of win- ter and may have even func- tioned as the Celtic New Year. Samhain represented a scary time for the Celts because the harvest had just finished and the dark win- ter days were quickly ap- proaching. In this agricul- ture-based society, a good harvest was a matter of life or death, so the Celts prayed for a successful crop. Indeed, since nature was dying and barren during this time of the year, Samhain had a strong association with death. The Celts believed that the veil between the liv- ing and the dead was espe- cially thin on this transi- tional night, and both good and evil spirits wandered through the Earth. To ward off these spirits, the Celts built bonfires and donned frightening costumes, a cus- tom which has survived in the modern Halloween. An- other way to scare evil spir- its away was to bu'.fld jack-o- lanterns, or hollowed tur- nips carved with eerie faces and bearing a candle inside. When the Irish immigrated to America in the nine- teenth century, the pump- kin eventually replaced the turnip for this craft. Samhain was also a night ripe for divination, when girls tossed apple peals over their shoulders to ascertain the initials of their future spouse and people closely watched the bonfires for por- tents about the harvest. Meanwhile, the popular Halloween game of bobbing for apples comes from our ancestors in Italy, who played it during Pomona, the ancient Roman festival hon- Oring the goddess of the orchards• This pre-Christian holiday of harvest's close and death later combined with All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day, two Catholic feasts also honoring the dead. When Christianity began to spread across Europe in the early Middle Ages, All Saints' Day was attached to November Ist to bring a religious per- spective to Samhain. All Saints' Day also went by the name of All Hallows, and as the preceding evening, All Hallows' Eve morphed into the word Halloween. While All Saints' Day commemo- rated deceased saints, as the name suggests, All Souls' Day, a holiday celebrating a// the faithful departed, was placed on November 2"d. The tradition of trick-or-treating actually stems from All Souls' Day; in the Middle Ages, beggars and children would go souling, or moving from home to home receiv- Owned and operated by Pamela Donnaruma, Publisher, Post-Gazette Since 1969 FOR ALL YOUR INSURANCE NEEDS AUTO * HOMEOWNERS • TENANTS COMMERCIAL Experience makes the difference 209 BROADWAY, REVERE, MA 02151 Tel. 781.284.1100 Fax 781.284.2200 Free Parking Adjacent to Building ing spiced cookies known as soul cakes in return for prayers on behalf of the household's dead. Modern Italians do celebrate Hal- loween with pumpkin and witch decorations and haunted attractions, but All Souls' Day remains the most important festi- val of the dead in that country. Known as il Giorno dei Morti (day of the dead), people in Italy visit and clean graves on Novem- ber 2"d and attend special masses for the deceased. In the countryside, old-time vil- lagers tell spine-tingling sto- ries of lost travelers stum- bling upon a church service the night of All Souls and noticing that the pews are filled with the spirits of long- gone townsfolk. Elsewhere, depending on the region, Italian children may leave offerings out for wandering souls during the eve of All Souls and find treats the next morning, or people may munch on ossa dei morti, or nutty spice cookies whose creepy moniker means "bones of the dead." I re- member learning about similar traditions for Dia de los Muertos, the Latin Ameri- can Day of the Dead, in Spanish class and making cinnamon-topped bread called pan de los muertos. Truly, spookiness is a world- wide affair! I keep all of these old tra- ditions in my mind when I celebrate Halloween• I love honoring this holiday in a folksy manner, paying spe- cial attention to the themes of harvest's end and the ac- companying sense of the unknown. A grinning wooden jack-o-lantern deco- rates my door. I bake a pump- kin bread with a cream cheese ripple every year, let- ting the spices warm my kitchen. In between hand- ing out candy to the trick-or- treaters, I snuggle on the couch with a cup of tea, watching ghost programs with my husband. These tra- ditions make Halloween a very meaningful holiday for me. A lot of people may find the holiday's emphasis on death quite morbid, but it actually stems from the cus- tom of earth-based holidays• With the withered leaves, dark nights and brisk winds of late October, it is no won- der that the ancient Celts and the early Catholics turned to questions of mor- tality and restless spirits this time of the year. How- ever, as a sort of New Year, Halloween also reminds us that life is indeed a cycle, and the sun and nature will soon grow again• We must acknowledge the darkness, and all of its mysteries, to truly appreciate the light. Happy Halloween! Ally Di Censo Symynkywicz is a Graduate Student in History at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She appreciates any comments and suggestions about Italian holidays and folklore at adicenso89@gmail, com. by Sal Giarratani IS LIBERALISM A MENTAL DISORDER? I worked in the field of mental health for 40 years and in that time, saw almost everything you could imag- ine in both direct care and support services. But there is nothing more dangerous than watching liberals act so delusional when it comes to politics. When most people consider facts and logic, lib- erals tend to go all emo- tional• They don't call them moonbats for nothing• We have a president who clearly is showing his in- competency. He looks like a deer staring down the head- lights when it comes to both ISIS and Ebola. Last week, he actually decided not to make three campaign stops in a two-day period to stay in Washington and do the job he was elected to do. Most of the people he has been listening to lately seem profoundly ignorant. His lib- eral base for the most part is living in complete denial• Little by little, Ebola creeps into our country and the CDC is stating we can't shut- down commercial air flights to and from Liberia because doing so would spread Ebola in Africa. What? Then our CDC Director Tom Frieden admonishes the second nurse from Dallas for not taking a chartered flight home from Cleveland. How many nurses does he know that fly on chartered airlin- ers? Then, he tells Ameri- cans that those with Ebola should not be riding buses, but that the general public should have no fear riding on them. However, I'm think- ing, suppose someone with Ebola didn't get Frieden's memo about not riding buses? As you can tell, I am just a bit nervous about trusting our leaders to keep us safe. Meanwhile, the liberals sit back and think everything is just great because the "Great One" Barack Obama has everything under con- trol. We have a president who seems in way over his head and is now re-acting to news and offering useless medical advice to us. If President Bush was still in office and offering this kind of leadership on both ISIS and Ebola, they would be marching in the streets against him. Does Obama get a pass from them solely on being America's first African American president? Are lib- erals that guilt-ridden about race that they just close their eyes, block their ears and say nothing critical? Ninety-nine percent of Americans could say that we are going-to-hell-in-a-hand- basket, but the moon-bats most likely would be the one percent who would say oth- erwise. There are many non- moonbat Democrats like myself who are seeing Presi- dent Obama the way MBTA riders see the third rail. Be thankful this number is growing, but moonbat liber- als really need to get back on their medicine again. 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