COTTAGE GROVE – The time of harvest and preparing for winter have long been celebrated almost universally among cultures; after planting, tending and bringing in the crops, it is a time to celebrate. Add that to the shortening of daylight, coloring of the leaves and the coming of the winter, and you have a very special time of the year.
Young folk revel particularly in the prospect of being able to don a costume and shake down householders for treats with the implied threat of a trick if something is not offered. Well, not too threatening, mind you.
Halloween and trick-or-treating have changed quite a bit just in my lifetime. In the tricks department, I remember my grandmother being terrified that someone would ”soap” her prized frosted windows. Other Halloween pranks of yesteryear included collecting any moveable signs from businesses and relocating them to a school or other public place.
My teacher told us that, as a boy, he and friends had managed to suspend a wooden farm wagon from their school. There are unconfirmed stories that the Swinging Bridge was cut as a Halloween prank in the '30s.
The level of decoration has increased dramatically as well. In my youth it was a jack -o-' lantern, a cardboard witch from the dime store, and maybe some corn stalks. I must say that the efforts that many households generate nowadays is quite impressive. Many decorate early, too, like in September.
The roots of Halloween and trick-or-treating run deep. The traditions that led to fake spider webs and motorized skeletons come to us through the Celtic lands. The celebration called Samhain in Irish Gaelic or Calan Gwaf in Cornish was an important event in those cultures. They viewed it as a liminal time, when the boundary between the real world and their Otherworld thinned and became porous. There was a chance to communicate with the spirits of the fairies and even the dead.
The Western Church feast time of Hallowtide, the three-day celebration that includes All Hallows' Eve, All Hallows' Day (All Saints' Day), and All Souls' Day, ended up on the calendar at the same time as Samhain through Pope Gregory III around 735.
There seems to be some debate whether this coincidence was due to Celtic or Germanic influence. Both cultures celebrate the dead at the beginning of winter.
There was not much in the way of Halloween in America up until the mass immigration of Scots and Irish in the 1800s.
They brought not only the religious observances but the folk practices such as ”guising” – children dressing up in disguises and going house to house, begging food and coins. In the old countries they carried jack-o'-lanterns made of carved turnips or other root vegetables to ward off evil spirits. Once established in America, guisers switched to the much easier to carve pumpkin for their lanterns.
These Celtic seeds planted across the Atlantic grew slowly into our trick-or-treating, which didn't really become popular until the 1930s. A more modern development is the trunk-or-treat celebration where cars gather in a parking lot with their trunks decorated and filled with treats. These are popular at churches, businesses or civic activities.
Today in Cottage Grove there are several exciting ways to celebrate these ancient customs.
The Halloween Howl wil be held from 3 to 5 p.m. in the Historic District. Sponsored by Main Street Cottage Grove, local businesses and organizations will be providing treats for the kids and other activities as well.
There will be a costume contest, and the W.I.T.C.H.E.S. of Cottage Grove will be doing their spirited dances at 3:15 and 4:15 p.m. Very family-friendly!
For something a bit darker and spookier, check out the Opal Center's production at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday (and next Friday and Saturday, too). From the website: ”'The Psychopath Monologues' explores the dark side of humanity with the irreverent glee and black humor you've come to expect from OPAL's Halloween Mashups.
Tickets $12 available online or at The Crafty Mercantile.”
To warm up for a day of ghoulish pleasure, the Harvest/Halloween Party at the Hub may be just the low-key activity that you seek for the young ones.
Decorations, photo ops, treats and activities will be offered from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Health Hub, 1133 E. Main.
And at the Library is Thursday Crafternoon 3 to 5 p.m. Drop in for some fun crafts and textile arts brought to you by the Friends of the CG Library.
Falling just outside the Allhallowtide timeframe is Roller Skating at the CG Armory. This Sunday, Nov. 3, a time-honored tradition returns to the rumored-to-be-haunted Armory.
Kids' Skate is from noon to 2 p.m., with an All Ages Skate from 3 to 5 p.m. and an 18 & Over Skate from 6 to 8pm.
It's $5 for entrance, including skate rental, or $1 if you have your own skates or just want to watch.
Well, Grovers, have a safe and spirited All Hallows' Eve: ”Oíche Shamhna Shona Daoibh.”
Dana Merryday may be reached at [email protected] or 541-942-7037.