Friday, October 23, 2015

Halloween and Its Origins

The roots of Halloween stretch back over the centuries.  Today we will examine the origins of the holiday and a few of its most cherished traditions.  Do you have any cherished Halloween traditions?  Share them in the comments section for others to read and enjoy.  Also, visit the library and see some of the Halloween books in our collection the librarians have set out.

The ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween) fell around the time corresponding to November 1st on our modern calendars.  This festival marked both the beginning of the Celtic New Year and the beginning of winter.  The Celts believed that during this festival, which lasted approximately three days, the line dividing the spirits of the dead from the living was thinner and more permeable.  At this time ghosts, fairies, and demons walked and mingled with humanity for a short period.

The Celts divided their year into two halves.  A light half (summer) when the earth produced fruits and vegetables and was green, and a dark half (winter), a time when the earth went dormant and lost its greenery.  As with other festivals, Samhain provided a time for feasting, dancing, and other merrymaking.  It was a way to enjoy the waning days of warmth and to prepare for the cold dark days that lay ahead.

As barbarian Europe converted to Christianity, pagan holidays were incorporated into the Christian liturgical calendars and given new Christian meanings.  In the Christian calendar, November 2nd is All Souls’ Day, when the dead are traditionally prayed for.  November 1st was All Saints’ Day or All Hallows Day.  This was the day of the year when all the Saints of the Church were remembered.  October 31st became known as All Hallows Eve, or with the English propensity to shorten and contract everything: Halloween.

Jack O’ Lantern
The history of Jack O’ Lanterns originates with the story of Stingy Jack.  According to legend
Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him.  Jack, unwilling to pay for the drink, convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin to pay for the drink.  Instead of paying for the drink, Jack stuck the coin into his pocket next to a silver cross which prevented the Devil from regaining his original shape.  After forcing the Devil to agree not to harm him for a year or to take his soul after he died Jack left the devil go.

The next year Jack tricked the Devil into climbing the tree to pick a piece of fruit.  While the Devil was in the tree Jack carved a cross into the bark of the tree, preventing the Devil from climbing back down.  Once again Jack was able to extract a promise from the Devil.  This time the Devil agreed not to bother Jack for ten years.

Shortly after the second agreement with the Devil, Jack died.  Jack appeared at the Pearly Gates and God, wary of having such a duplicitous character in heaven, refused him admittance.   The Devil, still upset at being tricked so easily and yet true to his word, would not take Jack into hell. Instead, the Devil gave Jack a burning coal to help him find his way.  Jack put the coal into a carved turnip and has been roaming the earth since.

In Ireland and Scotland people made their own Jack O’ Lanterns by carving scary faces into potatoes and turnips and displaying them on their windowsills.  This was to frighten Stingy Jack and other malevolent spirits away.  In England, large beets were carved.  Immigrants from the British Isles brought these traditions to America, where it was soon discovered that pumpkins, a gourd native to North America, made the perfect Jack O’ Lantern.

Why do we go trick-or-treating and wear costumes?
As mentioned above the ancient Celtic peoples believed that during the festival of Samhain the line between the living and the dead was thinner.  The Celts would take precautions so as not to draw any unwanted attention from wandering ghosts and spirits.  Adults would dress themselves in costumes made of animal skins to frighten away spirits.  Others would fill tables full of goodies in order to satisfy wandering spirits and make them leave the local villagers alone.

By the year 1000 CE poorer members of the local community would visit the homes of the better off during this particular season.  In exchange for pastries, called soul cakes, they promised to pray for the souls of that family’s departed members.  This custom was known as souling, and was later taken up by children demanding food, treats, and ale.  This is reminiscent of the Christmas tradition of “wassailing” where the poor would converge upon the homes of their betters and demand food and drink – think “O give us some figgy pudding,” and “we won’t go until we get some.”

In Scotland and Ireland the young would visit other homes while dressed in different types of costumes.  In exchange for performing a little song or dance or reciting a poem or some other “trick” they would be given a “treat” of fruit, nuts, or some coins.
Irish and Scottish immigrants brought their traditions with them when they arrived in the United States.  This helped to cement the various celebrations associated with Halloween firmly in the states.  In the early 20th century many American youth seemed to take the idea of a “trick” literally and began engaging in vandalism, assaults, and occasionally violence.  In an effort to curb more destructive behaviors, local authorities organized community trick-or-treat programs in the 1930s.  After a hiatus during World War II due to sugar rationing the traditions picked back up and now the newly emerging baby boomers gave a boost to this tradition.

Bobbing for Apples
Although associated with Halloween parties and fall festivals now this game was originally associated with finding love and divination.  Like some of our other Halloween traditions this one originated in the British Isles and made its way to the New World with Scottish and British immigrants.  There are several variations of this game with different rules and superstitions attached to the outcome of the game.

In the first version of the game apples are assigned the name of a potential mate.  Young ladies would then take turns bobbing for apples.  In this game the girl would try to bite the apple.  If it took only one turn to bite the apple they would marry.  A second attempt meant the man would court the girl, but the love would fail.  If it took three tries the relationship was doomed.  Another variation of the game consisted of a race and the first to bite an apple would be the first to marry.  Another related superstition held that if the girl placed the apple she bit under her pillow she would see her future mate in her dreams.

These games are pretty tame compared to another apple-themed game popular in the 1800s.  The game of Snap Apple consisted of an apple stuck to the end of a stick.  A lit candle was affixed to the other end.  The goal of this game was to take a bite of the apple while it was spun around and trying to avoid a face full of candle wax.  Definitely not the type of game one would consider playing at Halloween parties today.

The library has many books and CDs available to help you get into the Halloween spirit.  Here are a few examples of the items we offer:

"It Came From Ohio..." by James Renner
"Haunted Ohio" by Chris Woodyard, we also have volumes II, III, IV, and V
"Ghosthunting Ohio" by John B. Kachuba


"A Discovery of Witches" by Deborah Harkness
"Dark Witch" by Nora Roberts


"Hocus Pocus! Halloween Crafts for a Spooktacular Holiday"
"The Pumpkin Carving Book" by Deborah Schneebeli-Morrell 

We also have CDs full of spooky sounds and noises!


"Graveyard Terror"
"Halloween: Monster Mix" by Mannheim Steamroller
Martha Stewart Living "Spooky Scary Sounds for Halloween"

If you need help finding something you don't see here or need a spooky recommendation find one of our librarians and they will be glad to help you.

Have a safe and happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Spooky Movies!

As we inch closer and closer to Halloween the sun starts to go down sooner and the ghouls start to come out earlier. And as is the trend at many libraries around the country this is when horror movies start to rise in checkouts. So the staff here wanted to share with you some of our absolute favorites for the spooky movie season.

The Babadook (Chris' pick)

Amelia lives a strained lifestyle after losing her husband the day she gave birth to her son. He is troubled by imaginary monsters and behavioral outbursts that get him removed from school. One evening he has Amelia read him a haunting children's story book about Mr. Babadook, which ultimately consumes his fear. She denies it's real, but slowly is forced to question that and confront the dark entity from the story as it presses the limits of her sanity.

This film has a rough start because of some exceptional emotional acting from the two main characters, but it's incredible use of silence and darkness pushes the tension in this film so fiercely that I was literally at the edge of my seat for nearly the entirety of the film. To cause legitimate horror without jump scares is a rare feat these days and from one pivotal point a 3rd of the way into the movie, I was completely locked in and glued to the screen. Easily one of the scariest films I've seen in a number of years.

The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (Jane's pick)

Ok, so I'm not a big scary movie or book person. In fact I don't read Stephen King novels and I haven't watched a horror movie in years. The last scary book I read on purpose was The Amityville Horror when it was first published.  That said, the very first, and probably last, scary movie I saw was The Ghost and Mr. Chicken which came out in the late 1960s. It’s really more comedy than horror, but at the time I thought it was very scary.

Don Knotts stars. His character works as a typesetter at a small-town newspaper and wants to be a full-fledged reporter. So he takes on the task of spending the night in the town’s haunted house. The situation allows many opportunities for Knotts to react to sight gags with the special brand of eye-popping nervousness that made him a star. This one is suitable for the whole family! Of course, there's a love interest and in the end Knotts solves the mystery of the haunted house and gets the girl!.Oh man, when that cobwebby, creepy organ started playing by itself I about jumped out of my skin! You would too!

The Omen (Chad's pick)

A secret cabal of Satanists strives to protect the Antichrist from being detected and their plans thwarted.  The Antichrist, Damien, is the adopted son of the American Ambassador to Great Britain, Robert Thorn.  At first Thorn refuses to believe his son is anything more than a little boy.  After several strange, ghastly deaths and mounting evidence, Thorn travels to Israel to meet with an expert on the Antichrist.  The tension in the final scenes escalates as the Satanists will do anything it takes to make sure no harm comes to Damien.

This movie is my one consistent go to after all these years.  There are many things about this that still makes it creepy.  Firstly, the soundtrack with its eerie sounding chant music sets the tone throughout.  The rest of the time the music is subdued enough to add a general air of impending horror.  The scene, which occurs within the first fifteen minutes of the movie, with the nanny at the birthday party, still sends shivers up my spine.  If you don’t know which one I’m talking about just watch the movie and you’ll never forget.

Storm of the Century (Gina's pick)

My favorite horror movie is actually a TV mini-series, Storm of the Century. Written by Stephen King, it is set in a small village in his home state of Maine during a major snowstorm. While all the townspeople are frantically scrambling for food and supplies to prepare for the storm, a stranger appears. 

He knows all the darkest secrets of the inhabitants, making them increasingly paranoid, and keeps repeating, "Give me what I want, and I'll go away." The suspense builds as the storm gets more intense and we all try to figure out what he wants, and if he will get it. The conclusion is shocking and quite disturbing.

Psycho (Maria's pick)

I'm not a huge of fan of horror, but I do love good suspense/thriller movies. I've recently become a Hitchcock fan, and I'm recommending the movie Psycho since it's the closest movie of his that could be considered horror. It's about a young secretary who steals $40,000 from her boss and runs away to meet up with her boyfriend. Trying to avoid the police, she travels on back roads and stops for the night at the Bates Motel and meets the polite but odd proprietor, Norman Bates.

I wouldn't say it's my favorite of the Hitchcock's films, but it's definitely the one that sticks with me and will never forget. So if you like a good classic and are in the mood to watch a good psychological thriller, this is perfect for you. And if you've never seen it, this is definitely a movie that everyone should watch at least once in their lifetime.

Arsenic and Old Lace (Patti's pick)

I also am not a big fan of horror films, but an all time favorite of mine is Arsenic and Old Lace. Cary Grant plays a drama critic who falls in love with his next door neighbor, played by Priscilla Lane. 

His eccentric but lovable and also very scary relatives keep him running and thinking everyone is nuts and he might be next. This movie will make you laugh and be memorable for years. This could be called a comedy/thriller also starring Raymond Massey and Peter Lorre. CHARGE!

The Village (Mary's pick)

One of my favorite thriller movies is M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village.
This director uses the viewer’s photographic approach, thus enabling increased viewer participation.  As characters played by Joaquin Phoenix, Sigourney Weaver, William Hurt, Adrien Brody and Bryce Dallas Howard move forward, the viewer takes on that journey.

The Village is a psychological thriller set in a closed society whereupon the community abides by fixed behavioral rules. To outward appearances this setting is nirvana whereby family life, respect, and kindness prevail.  Soon we realize that all of this has fear as the supreme motivator.  Boundaries are created not only in thinking, but also physical travel. Somewhat like the theme music from Jaws, a bell sounds when there are any transgressions.  Evidence of a cruel “of that we cannot speak” curtails any considerations of breaking the law. As beliefs are questioned, the unexpected backgrounds of all players are revealed in a twisted ending.  The adage of “The end justifying the means,” unfolds the terrifying truth.