Celebrating Halloween in North America
It’s that time of the year again! It’s time to walk with the ghosts and ghouls to avoid being dragged into the netherworld, an exercise in subterfuge! But, oh! What exciting times, both for kids and adults! Getting it on with the spooky décor, especially window décor! Awesome stints of creativity – everyone knocking themselves out making cut outs of bats, cats, witches on broom sticks, black moons and halos, skeletons and spirits, mummies come to life, scenes of beheading, spiders and grungy cobwebs, denuded tress with gnarled branches, scenes from Friday the 13th and the Hammer House of Horror! The ideas are endless!
So this Halloween, the twin girls and their big brother have decided to come up with something innovative for the huge recessed bow window in the family room. I had this window recently outfitted with motorized blackout 3/8” double cellular shades from Graber to sync with the AV system and lighting. I bought them online from a retailer called www.zebrablinds.com as I really don’t have the time to go out to shop. It meant no installation charges as it’s all DIY. They are made of a luxurious polyester Cocoon fabric (Spunlace that sandwiches a metalized plastic film). The best thing about these shades is that every panel is equipped with its own motor, with streamlined, color coordinated LED enabled end caps that double as a buttons to operate the shades should the single channel remote be misplaced. And since I don’t much care for batteries, I got the plug-in transformer to charge the motor.
Energy Efficient window shades through the Year
We decided on this product for our family room because we’re coming into lots of short vacation spells that allow us to spend a lot of time together, which means lounging around in the family room, watching old videos of the kids’ antics, movies, quiet times reading, and napping or just chatting to catch up on what’s going on with each other, as Nathaniel and I are both doctors with busy schedules. We had some drapes covering the window earlier, and they were all played out, so we decided on something state-of-the-art, sleek, energy efficient while enhancing the look of the room – this as our son is studying to be an engineer, and energy efficiency seems to be coming out of his ears! Apparently, cellular shades are an excellent window covering option, with a high R-value, creating an efficient barrier between the room and the window, keeping the warm air in during heating months, and the cool air in during the cooling months, saving loads in terms of power. And as the family room is the hub of all activity, we decided to try them out here first, before deciding on whether to get them for the other rooms, mostly the bedrooms as well. We got them at practically a steal as there were some fabulous offers on during thanks giving!
Why do We Celebrate Halloween?
Why do we take such trouble to decorate our homes and yards eerily, tell spine-chilling stories, and scare each other witless? Personally, I think we humans have a morbid side that needs to reinstate itself from time to time, but there is a long history here that’s perpetuated faithfully, from year to year! Halloween is more than just trick or treating and spooky outfits –
Halloween finds its roots in pre-Christian (pagan) times – to Celtic celebrations called Samhain (pronounced sah-win), both a festival of harvest and herding, a time when resources were gathered for the winter months and the herds were brought back home. It was also a day of the dead involving ancestor worship, a supernatural belief that gave rise to the thought that the spirits of the dead would cross over into the living world, enticing the living to go back with them to the spirit world. Tor trick the spirits, folks of old are said to have thrown old white cloth with holes cut out for eyes over themselves or gussing themselves as mummies, a clever disguise, wouldn’t you say. The concept of Halloween was imported to North America by the first Irish and Scottish immigrants, and through the years the myth of witches, ghouls and goblins have survived, albeit as entertainment today!
Trick or Treating
During harvest, beggars were thought to have disguised themselves as spirits knocking on doors, asking for food. Skins of slaughtered animals were also worn to invoke the spirits of dead animals, an old Scottish tradition that continues to survive in the Highlands. According to tradition, banquet tables were laid out for visiting ghosts, and after the feast, they were led out of town by costumed villagers!
The Pumpkin and the Jack O’ Lantern
Irish children have long been known to hollow out potatoes, turnips and rutabagas, carving faces into them and placing lit candle stubs in them, lighting the way for the spirits. The pumpkin seems to be an American invention that was introduced by the founding fathers as it was widely farmed in the beginning of their settlement. The pumpkin flesh was used up for pumpkin pies during Thanks giving, and Halloween being not long after, the hollowed out shells were carved out and lit with candles, much like the potatoes of the old world.
A miserly drunkard Irishman named Jack twice tricked the Devil into promising not to take his soul. The first time he told the Devil he would accompany him to Hades if he could have sixpence to enjoy one last drink first. The Devil obliged by turning himself into sixpence that Jack immediately pocketed. He only let the Devil out when he promised not to claim his soul for ten years. At the end of ten years, he asked the Devil if he would retrieve an apple from a tree for him before they departed for Hell. When the Devil climbed the tree, Jack used his knife to carve a cross on the trunk, thus barring the Devil from descending. This time, Jack let the Devil down only after he promised never to claim his soul again. When Jack did die and was barred from Heaven, he appeared at the gates of Hell, only to be refused admittance and doomed to wander the world forever (as an undead figure). As he was leaving, the Devil threw him a live coal that he placed inside the turnip he had been eating, making the first jack o’ lantern (Tuleja 1987).
Scholars believe that since All Saint’s day (All Hallows’ Mass) and Samhain are so close together, the practices intertwined into the celebration called Halloween.
Window Décor for Halloween
We’ve always had hooks on the top of the recessed window – when the kids were smaller. They would hang their hand-made puppets, stuffed toys, dried flower arrangements, handmade lamps, masks, etc.
This Halloween, they decided to throw white muslin over white plastic glow balls and draw eyes and mouths in black felt to make ghostly faces that would light up at night. Darryl, our son, got a gnarled branch from somewhere, and all three kids painted it black and had it suspended over the window, so it looked like a dead branch looming over it. They then hung cutouts of bats, a ghoulish moon, and a witch in flight on a broomstick. The motorized shades would not get in the way, they could easily be raised or lowered as the mood takes! And the Yellowish Lemon Tree color they sport gives a pleasant glow to the whole arrangement. And I must say, it was so tastefully done, that Nathaniel and I encouraged them to enter the local neighborhood competition for the Halloween window décor. Of course, being the surgeon and the head cook, I was left to carve the pumpkin shells, but we now have LED lights we can place in them! I hung a few small ones on some tree branches and lined the drive with the larger ones. Nathaniel and the girls crafted a life-like Jack and had him positioned at the entrance to our home. We now had to get candy for trick or treat.
Happy Halloween, to all the folks of the new world!