Halloween! A time to dress up as monsters, princesses and sultry bumblebees and then go out asking for treats. This also marks the day before NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month. As you might expect, I’ve been outlining, detailing and obsessing over the story I plan to write, but I wanted to take a second and destress, instead letting my mind wander to the concept of this holiday treasured by children and hormonally charged co-eds alike.
Now, me being the novice historian that I am, I ask myself, “What does dressing up like a sexy bumblebee have to do with October 31st?” It’s a bit of a procrastination tactic as I finish my outlining of my NaNo story while the first draft of the Lockwood and Blackfox finale sits in on my desktop, also unfinished, but hell – let’s try answering my question, shall we? Time to take a quick journey down the rabbit hole of half-hearted research into the depths of the internet to find out: can a girl in a foxy bee outfit find a place within Halloween lore?
Let’s start with the word “Halloween” itself. Halloween’s etymology can be broken down using 18th (coming from “hallowed,” as in “holy”) and een (coming from the Scots’ word even, which means “eve”). So, for the Christians, this comes out to mean a holy evening.
Okay, easy enough, but this doesn’t help our Bustful Bombus. As the etymology suggests, the old school Christians used this day to remember martyrs, other Christians and saints. Arthropods need not apply. So we need to go deeper, before Christians co-opted the idea of celebration between Fall and Winter.
Unfortunately, this is where things get a little touch and go for historians. No one can definitively nail down where the Christians could have taken Halloween from, or if they just thought the whole affair up on their own. Of course, there is Christianity’s track record on holiday conversions, and some pretty compelling evidence of pre-Christan Western European traditions centered around the end of October. One of these, Samhain, is particularly interesting, and may suit our needs.
Gaelic Samhain was a festival marking the end of harvest and the beginning of winter. Unlike today with our fiberglass insulation and central heating, winters during the days of Samhain royally sucked. People got sick, animals died and precious food stores, required to survive to see the spring, sometimes went bad. So, without refrigerators or modern medicines, the ancient Gaelic people turned to mythologies and ritual.
According to the Gaelic people, the main culprits for the horrible things happening during the winter were the Aos Sí, or Fairies. These Aos Sí were basically spirits and forgotten gods who liked to create mischief, like killing a baby in its sleep, or plaguing livestock. You know, good ol’ harmless Aos Sí antics. A lot of the stuff people did back then was to placate them and to make sure they didn’t stir shit up. This would include imbibing potions, putting out offerings, going door to door, dressing up and reciting chants. Sound familiar?
Dressing up to look like Aos Sí in order to garner their favor to avoid death and sickness? Sounds like Trick-or-Treating to me. Of these house-goers, there had to have been at least a couple chicks who dressed up as things with wings with some midriff, lookin’ for a lil’ something more than fairy favor.
Okay so that’s a stretch. People living in fear of the Aos Sí giving them the pox is not really the same as a girl in a short yellow skirt getting sloppy at your cousin’s college party. But hey, when she pukes and gets sent home in a cab, maybe it wasn’t just her drinking too much. Maybe she also got a little bit o’ the fairy magic in her from an Aos Sí who wanted to keep the party going. Okay back to writing.
– Stephan McLeroy