Halloween is my favorite American holiday. This celebration evolved from the ancient Celtic Day of the Dead. The Celts divided their year into two parts, winter and summer, and November 1 was considered the end of summer and the beginning of winter. It was the time of harvest and the preparation for the coming cold.
They called this holiday 'Samhein' and considered it New Year's Day.
Samhein was the most important Celtic holiday of the year. On its eve, all the animals and people who had died the previous year made the transition from the material world into the spiritual realm. Boundaries dissolved. The edge between the living and the dead became blurred. It was a powerful time -- a little bit scary and anything could happen.
Sunset on Samhein marked another edge; the edge between day and night. Dusk had a special meaning. The spirits began their journey at this interval of light and dark. People lit bonfires to help the apparitions on their way and to keep the dead away from the living. Families left food and drink out to mollify the spirits. Gates and doorways -- also boundaries -- were protected with symbolic decoration.
The Irish immigrants brought Halloween to the United States after the Great Potato Famine. And while the holiday is still primarily for children, American adults have embraced it wholeheartedly. It has become for us a Mardi Gras, a time of liberation from our own boundaries. We are freed from the constraints of social mores. We live our fantasies out for one night. Whores become nuns. Paupers become princes. Men become women. Women become men. We can dance away our fears. We feel liberated and alive and like our pagan ancestors we mock the darkness that is death.