Halloween: Traditional customs, frightful fun
Halloween has deep roots in Montclair, children learned at the Montclair History Center Sunday, Oct. 21.
“Can you imagine a time before Halloween? What’s your favorite part about Halloween?” Montclair History Center Executive Director Jane Eliasof asked a group of children.
“Costumes and candy!!” the children shouted.
MHC, in partnership with the Independent Contemporary Arts Project (ICAP), held a children’s program on “Halloween, Art, History.” The event presented a spooky poetry reading under the glow of a jack-o’-lantern, and art projects that included a vintage clown hat craft project, which was one of the most popular original Halloween costumes.
Although Halloween today is a much-celebrated and much-loved holiday, in the early 1800s Americans in this part of the country did not celebrate Halloween because of their Puritan ties, Eliasof said.
“Day of the Dead, All Saints Day, [they] were based on people returning to you, the souls coming back,” she said. “In the 1840s, when Irish immigrants came to the United States because of the potato famine, they brought in this Halloween tradition that simmered under the surface. It was an adult holiday that was reframed into the children’s holiday starting in the 1920s.”
Costumes used to be created at home before novelty shops and department stores began mass marketing Halloween.
“The early costumes were ghosts made with a sheet you cut some holes into or maybe a clown costume sewn together,” she said. “The children’s holiday stuff you made at home. You didn’t go to Kmart for it. After the 1920s and through the 1950s, Halloween got more mass marketing. We saw lots of princesses, pop culture figures, and eventually puns and politicians come into play in the costumes.”
The custom of trick-or-treating or “mumming” meant dressing up and knocking on doors, demanding food and treats in an aggressive manner. It goes back centuries and was even part of some Christmas traditions, she noted. “I like to call it trick-or-treating on steroids. Now it has mellowed out, which is Halloween as we know it today,” Eliasof said. “It’s more community-based, with roots in old traditions.”
Events: Trick-or-treat at the Crane House, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 3-5 p.m., 110 Orange Road. Montclairhistory.org.
All Souls Day
Death is a taboo subject, said the Rev. Jim Chern, chaplain at the Newman Catholic Campus Center at Montclair State University.
But death is a big part of the Christian holiday of All Souls Day, following the bright candy-colored festivities of Halloween.
Nov. 1 is All Saints Day in Christianity, and the Catholic and Anglican churches observe Nov. 2 as All Souls Day. All Saints Day commemorates all of the canonized saints in the pantheon, while All Souls Day commemorates all deceased people, or officially, “the faithful departed.”
The name Halloween actually refers to the holiday: All Hallows E’en, or All Hallows Eve, the night before All Saints Day.
The Newman Catholic Center has an annual tradition that combines elements of All Souls
Day and Dia de Los Muertos. On the Sunday after All Souls Day, students write the names of deceased loved ones on a card and put the cards in a basket at the altar. The basket remains on the altar during the month of November.
Throughout November, many churches have tables set up near the altar where parishioners can place photos of deceased loved ones. Some have displays of chrysanthemums, a flower associated both with remembrance and the month of November. For some churches, ‘mums’ also tie in with remembrance ceremonies for Veterans’ Day, Nov. 11.
While Chern thinks about those he’s lost at every Mass, “there’s something unifying that on All Souls Day, all of us are mindful of all of those we’ve lost,” he said.
St. Cassian’s Church: stcassianchurchuppermontclair.org
St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish (Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Mount Carmel): montclaircatholics.org
St. Peter Claver: saintpeterclaverchurch.com
Newman Catholic Center: msunewman.com
Soul cakes; the first trick-or-treat candy
During the Middle Ages, on the night before All Saints Day, children and the poor called “soulers” would go around town praying and singing for people’s souls. They would knock on doors, beg and sing:
Soul, Soul, a soul cake!
I pray thee, good missus, a soul cake!
One for Peter, two for Paul,
three for Him what made us all!
Soul Cake, soul cake, please good missus,
a soul cake.
An apple, a pear, a plum, or a cherry, any
good thing to make us all merry.
One for Peter, two for Paul, & three for Him
who made us all.
In return the “soulers” promised to pray for dead loved ones to be released from purgatory. Those who didn’t offer the heavily spiced cakes topped with raison crosses would be cursed, according to catholiccuisine.com.
—Jaimie Julia Winters
Soul Cake recipe
1 cup butter, two sticks
3 3⁄4 cups sifted flour
1 cup fine sugar
1⁄4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon allspice
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
4 -6 tablespoons milk
Powdered sugar, to sprinkle on top
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Cut the butter into the flour with a pastry blender or a large fork.
Blend in the sugar, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon and allspice; beat eggs, vinegar, and milk together.
Mix with the flour mixture until a stiff dough is formed.
Knead thoroughly and roll out 1/4-inch thick.
Cut into 3-inch rounds and place on greased baking sheets. Prick several times with a fork and top off with raisins crisscrossed
Bake for 20-25 minutes.
Sprinkle lightly with powdered sugar while still warm.
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Cut the butter into the flour with a pastry blender or a large fork.
- Blend in the sugar, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon and allspice; beat eggs, vinegar, and milk together.
- Mix with the flour mixture until a stiff dough is formed.
- Knead thoroughly and roll out 1/4-inch thick.
- Cut into 3-inch rounds and place on greased baking sheets. Prick several times with a fork and top off with raisins crisscrossed
- Bake for 20-25 minutes.
- Sprinkle lightly with powdered sugar while still warm.
For Pagans, Halloween is a sacred holiday, not an eve of a Christian holiday, and not merely a masquerade ball.
The Celtic holiday of Samhain (pronounced “sow-een”) begins at sundown on Oct. 30, and continues until dusk on Nov. 1. It is halfway between the autumn equinox (when day and night are equal) and the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year.
It’s also considered the thinnest time of the year, when the veil between the human and spirit world is at its thinnest. That’s because the year officially ends on Oct. 30, and doesn’t begin again until Nov. 1, so the day of Samhain is outside of regular time.
It’s a day when the spirits of ancestors and loved ones are close, and can even cross over.
A Montclair resident who asked not to be named, because he’s not ready to come out of the “broom closet,” said he has customs he tries to keep to every Samhain, some harder now that he has moved from Hunterdon County.
There, he said, “I would often end up in old [17th-century] graveyards and leave tokens of appreciation. After all, it is the season when we are supposed to remember them.”
Attending Pagan events is important to him. Often, the events involved making a bonfire in the woods and doing a remembrance service for ancestors. “[We would] gather around the fire and speak the name of a loved one who had passed on. I picked my late grandfather,” he said.
Some of the Halloween symbols have their origins in Pagan customs: Druids used to light bonfires and carve turnips to scare away spirits — the origin of the modern jack-o’-lantern.
Trick-or-treating may originate, in part, from the Pagan custom of leaving food outside the house to appease wandering spirits. In addition, an extra placesetting is often laid out for a deceased loved one on Samhain in the “dumb supper,” and extra food would be left outside.
—Deborah Ann Tripoldi
Events: Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair, 67 Church St., will host a Samhain remembrance on Wednesday evening, Oct. 31 at 7:30 p.m. in the Rotunda. On Sunday, Nov. 4, the 9:30 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. worship services’ main focus will be on the ancestors titled “The Veil Between the Worlds” led by The Rev. Scott Sammler-Michael. For information visit uumontclair.org.
Also on Nov. 4, 5 p.m., Karen Aistars of Mystic Spirit Metaphysical Shoppe and Cheryl Chirichello will be hosting a Samhain Ancestor Ritual at the shop, 324 Bloomfield Ave., Montclair. For more information, contact Aistars at 973-509-7155, and visit mysticspirit.net.
Moonlight Masquerade on Saturday, Nov. 3 at 8 p.m., hosted by the Bergen Wiccan & Pagan Group at the Woman’s Club of Paramus, 65 West Ridgewood Ave., Paramus. Tickets are $50 includes buffet, dessert, soda, wine and beer. Proceeds benefit St. Jude Children’s Hospital, stjude.org and Four Legs Good, fourlegsgoodnynj.org – a non-profit promoting humane treatment of homeless and feral animals. For information email, email@example.com.
A secular holiday
There are a lot of Jewish holidays, and in the fall, the holidays come hard on top of one
another — after the High Holy Days comes Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, Simchat Torah — but Halloween is not one of them. Given its origins as a Christian holiday, with roots in Pagan customs, some Jews frown on participating in Halloween.
Rabbi Yaacov Leaf of Chabad of Montclair said he would not judge Jews who celebrate the day with trick-or-treating, although it's not a Jewish holiday. He pointed out that when celebrating non-Jewish holidays, "the lines can get blurry."
In the suburbs of Detroit where he grew up, Halloween was associated with mischief, and in his Orthodox neighborhood nobody trick-or-treated. “People were scared to go out,” he said. “Here, it’s more of an innocent kind of thing.”
Montclairite Martin Golan said, “When the kids were home, we used to try to make a bigger deal out of Purim, but in the Diaspora [and not being Orthodox] it's pretty much impossible.” He gives candy out but does not decorate the house.
The Jewish holiday of Purim — which will be March 20-21 in 2019, or the 14th day of Shushan, on the Hebrew calendar — is celebrated with costumes and games. It commemorates the day when, thanks to Queen Esther, Persian Jews were not massacred, but were instead allowed to defend themselves.
“All Jewish holidays have a strong, empowering spiritual message,” Leaf said. “Passover is about freedom. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is about taking spiritual stock, ‘How can I become a better Jew?’”
He pointed out that Halloween could have a connotation in the Old World of danger, a time when pogroms and persecution were prevalent.
Rabbi Elliott Tepperman of Montclair’s Bnai Keshet, a reconstructionist synagogue, did go trick-or-treating as a kid.
“Halloween has always felt like very American secular holidays to me. My kids are really into it and like to decorate the house. I don’t really see any reason not to celebrate the holiday.” he said.
Montclairite Robin Woods agrees.
“Even though I was brought up in a first generation Ashkenazi Jewish household with paternal Orthodox background, my British Nana stressed the importance of assimilation and being American,” she said. “We all felt naughty when we defied the decree from our Rabbi about Halloween being a ‘heathen holiday which must be ignored’ and dressed up while begging for candy in our very insular neighborhood in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. Halloween decorations would have been too bold to flaunt. I enjoy having children of all ages come to my door and giving out fine quality chocolates, as I wear my couture witch hat and wait for our kiddies to come home to roost and fight over their loot."
Teal is the new orange
Wonder what is going on with those teal pumpkins cropping up on stoops and porches all over Montclair? The quintessential Halloween jack-o’-lantern has taken on many forms since introduced as a carved turnip in Ireland centuries ago and as carved pumpkins (native to America) in the 1800s.
Today, teal pumpkins signal safe treats for trick-or-treaters with food allergies as part of the Teal Pumpkin Project, an awareness initiative supported by Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE).
“The number of children with food allergies as well as the number of anaphylactic reactions to food have risen dramatically over the last 20 years, and the prevalence of other diseases that cause adverse reactions to food continues to grow, as well,” said FARE CEO Lisa Gable. “Participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project has a collective impact, bringing people together to provide a more inclusive trick-or-treating experience for all.”
Many popular Halloween candies contain nuts, milk, egg, soy or wheat, which are among the most common allergens in children and adults. Many miniature candy items do not have labels, so it is difficult for parents to determine whether these items are safe for their child with food allergies.
Paint a pumpkin teal, or buy one at any number of national retailers, and place it on front of your home to show you have non-allergenic treats available. Participants offer non-food treats, such as glow sticks or small toys, as an alternative to candy.
Two local homes are listed on the FARE map as having teal pumpkins are located at 364 North Fullerton Ave. and 18 Norman Road.
—Jaimie Julia Winters