I was informed that the holiday is “Halloween,” October 31, which actually owes its existence to a religious celebration known in earlier times as “All Hallows' Eve.”
When my friend explained in greater detail what transpires on Halloween, I remarked that it sounded very similar to another holiday, “Guy Fawkes Night,” which was celebrated in England (dating back to the 1600s) and of course imported to the American Colonies, where, unfortunately, it didn’t quite achieve the popularity it enjoyed in England. I daresay very few people have ever heard of it.
One similarity to Halloween rests on the fact that in both holidays young children walk around their town acting as “beggars.” Back in 17th century England, they carried around effigies of Guy Fawkes while begging for coins; in 21st century America, the youngsters beg for candy, while crying “Trick or Treat!”
Perhaps it would be helpful at this point to share some background about Guy Fawkes. He was a member of the “Gunpowder Plot,” which had been planning to blow up the House of Lords. Fawkes was arrested on November 5, 1605, while guarding explosives that had been obtained for this purpose. And so the House of Lords – and the English monarch – were thus spared from a ghastly fate.
Inasmuch as King James had narrowly survived this attempt on his life through the timely arrest of Fawkes, the people celebrated this deliverance by lighting bonfires around London, and a few months later a law was enacted, making the day an official holiday, a day of thanksgiving for the failure of the Gunpowder Plot. Another part of the observance, in addition to the bonfires and the tradition of children begging for coins, was putting on extravagant fireworks displays.
The interesting thing is, although Guy Fawkes Night was brought to the colonies, it seemed to die out with the American Revolution. I suppose that all the real life “firepower” of our Revolution, in contrast to the contrived fireworks of Guy Fawkes Night, was more than enough to satisfy the need for gunpowder explosions on the part of the newly-freed colonists. We had experienced more than our share of the genuine article in the process of obtaining our independence.
Choosing my own costume
So now the question remains… as I see both grownups and youngsters preparing in such a major way for this present-day holiday of Halloween, I wonder how I shall participate? It looks as if this could be a quite entertaining diversion, and certainly one that will allow me to further observe this new American culture more closely.
In order to do so however, it would probably be prudent for me to join the multitudes in a costume of some sort, so as to blend in with the crowds of other celebrants.
What costume shall I choose? What fictional character or public figure might I feel most akin to? I suppose I could go as myself, and receive accolades for having such an accurate, true-to-life depiction.
Then again, I think I shall go in the guise of a giant turkey – that brave, noble, native-born American bird that I once proposed as our national symbol. (It was unfortunate that the proponents of the eagle as a national symbol won out, and the turkey was consigned to a life sentence of servitude as the main course on people’s Thanksgiving tables).
The one advantage to this: because of my own already ample girth, I shall not need much stuffing to round out my disguise!
Your humble servant,