The first time I heard of Dr. Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages was in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. The dark ocean stretched toward a starry sky as I walked around the deck of a cruise ship with my Israeli dinner companion. Raised in the Middle East, his mother was American. He looked more like a center for a Midwestern college basketball team than anything else as he explained Chapman’s research to me.
He told me about five love languages which symbolize how people give and receive love in social relationships. Time, physical touch, gifts, acts of service and words of affirmation represent the primary tools we use to show one another we care.
When my friend cleared his throat and asked me which one I identified with most, I barely hesitated. “Quality time,” was my immediate reply.
But now I’m not so sure.
As an only child, capturing someone’s undivided attention is very appealing, no doubt. But after spending the last 15 months working at a place where I’m rarely verbally affirmed in any way, I’m starting to think I really need to hear “I appreciate you” a little more often.
Your primary love language is supposed to be the one it would hurt you the most to go the longest without. Knowing that solidifies for me that spending quality time with those I love is my highest priority. But when you feel like you’re giving so much and not receiving much back, life can seem a little less magical. I believe we should support our friends and neighbors in whichever way comes most naturally. Everyone needs a boost sometimes. You never know who just lost a loved one, who’s been diagnosed with a disorder, whose car wouldn’t start that morning or whose dear friend just betrayed them.
To that end, I stumbled across a website the other day, http://www.moreloveletters.com, that is striving to create a little more light and love in our world. It’s a worldwide initiative started by a 20-something woman when she was depressed and living alone in New York City. Strangers hand-write letters to someone in need – stories and addresses are posted on the site – which are delivered in ribbon-wrapped bundles to the unsuspecting recipient. In a world of 140 characters or less, constant pinging, and more virtual than face-to-face communication, a little cursive and a few sparkly stickers and neon markers couldn’t hurt.
I’ve completed the GRE. (Pause for wild cheers of jubilation). And while I’m very relieved it’s over and while I’ll eventually be leaving my first, full-time, “big-girl job” behind, I’m still at a bit of a loss.
Will there be a good journalism graduate school program out there that wants to accept me as a student? Will it be harder than I think to leave what’s become a comfortable position that’s actually given me a lot of purpose (although I do have to pay for my own gasoline, we run on the most bare-bones budget imaginable, and I use my own camera to take photos)?
I’ve learned more from simply being a reporter for the last year and a half than I probably ever would have learned in a couple of semesters in the classroom. But I still long for an intellectual experience.
I’ve been doing some research on millennials in the workplace, and authors of the articles I’ve read have a lot of our traits down. We don’t see why we can’t chat directly with the CEO if we have something relevant to say. We want technical training that’s going to serve us well for years to come, flexible schedules (if possible), and opportunities for advancement.
I understand completely why employees have to prove themselves over and over and “move up the ladder” slowly. But honestly, I sometimes feel like I have more common sense and social graces than people thirty years older than me.
For example, one thing that’s amused me to no end in the workplace is watching people email rather than chat face-to-face when the situation involves an uncomfortable topic. Email – even when your correspondent is right next to you – seems to give this magical element of power to the sender. Like they really think emailing you something is going to make you more inclined to follow-through with their orders. Are they afraid of the recipient disagreeing with their viewpoint or providing an alternative opinion? Is that why there’s a dearth of actual communication in cubicle land?
I’d love to know more about all facets of the media business–from advertising to layout design. Yet at an entry-level job, it’s easy to get pigeon-holed into a silo of your responsibilities. I am a bit disappointed that I haven’t been provided with all the mentoring and “valuable connections” I was promised when I took this job in the first place. And I now know better than to ask for it–nobody is that concerned with me or what I bring to the company. Maybe that’s justifiable from a financial perspective, but when there’s only 20 people working in an office, it makes sense in my mind to get to know your employees. But I actually take an interest in others and consider myself a kind person. While those I write stories about constantly email me about what an excellent writing job I’ve done, I’ve never heard the smallest compliment from the company’s owner, whom I see almost daily. Maybe he’ll notice the copy’s not as great when I’m gone.
On the other hand, I suppose I can’t be that upset or surprised about being lied to during my initial interview. What were they going to tell me? The truth? There’s been so much turnover that from the day I started a year ago, about half of the people I first met at my work no longer work there. But I stuck it out. And when listening to my editor give instructions to our college interns, I can honestly reflect on how far I’ve come. I know how to craft news briefs and sort through government records. I can hold my own with one of the most powerful millionaires in the country–and isn’t it cool that I can say I’ve met him? I can call, and call, and call one more time until I finally get that energy company to give me a statement. I can juggle–writing three to four stories at once about anything from customs of the Medieval period to space travel. I’ve learned to take a better photograph and to more effectively respond to criticism. I’ve learned more about the world and about people.
I’m hoping school will provide more technical training and a greater focus on my love of all things social science-related. I know I’m ready and capable. I know I’ll be fine. I hope and pray some school accepts me even though I don’t know exactly what I want. I’m still young, after all. And there will be time before school starts again to polish up a few “life skills” and grapple with new responsibilities. Of course, I’ll live, and eventually, thrive.
But every now and then, I miss those college parties when nothing seemed to matter, and everyone around you was grinning and felt invincible. Sometimes, when I scroll through Facebook photos, I think that maybe people’s young marriages are just a way of coping with The Real World with a partner perpetually plastered to their side to make the journey a bit less bumpy. I was barely done pulling my finally valid 21-year-old ID out of my pocket before my peers began walking down the aisle. But I’m not quite ready to part ways with Avicii, Lady Gaga and strobe lights yet. I still deeply enjoy getting to hang out with girlfriends and just relaxing and being carefree. And if that means I’m a little immature, well, it beats being old.
Who knows? Maybe that initial English degree I earned will prove very useful one day. After I get married and have children and decide I can’t run around and keep humanity informed about the issues of the day anymore, perhaps I’ll be sitting contentedly in the classroom of a private school (since I have no masters degree in education), listening to kids read passages from “The Giver” and tell me what they think this crazy world is all about.
Just a few poems based around the idea of creating your own art.
Black curtains on a barren stage
The world on one side awaits
While far beyond the thick fabric,
A story prepares to unfold.
Unreal, someone’s fantasy
A Christmas tree, bejeweled
Glowing, appears at last.
A gasp from the people who,
Moments before, mindlessly chattered
Complained of that tall man’s bald head
Positioned in front of them.
Then lights go down
And silence falls.
A little girl strains to see . . .
. . . the other girl curls her stocking-feet
Up under delicate dress folds, looks
Down at his polished face and moveable jaw.
Cradles him in her arms; he’s free from harm.
Until sword fights and late nights
And unknown enemies crouched
Under the stairs
Attack, forcing him to prove that he can
Again, and again, and again
Survive and transform yet endure.
Later they sail through cotton-candy clouds
Drink from peppermint rivers
And waltz in golden halls overlooking the sea
She and her Nutcracker Prince.
But the story’s just a story
Well-rehearsed, colorful, engaging
Yet nothing to satisfy the raging for a
Reality as pretty as the creation.
Shimmering, she cuts across the ice
Entranced, dedicated to a fluid movement, a leap of faith,
That lands her solidly on a sharp blade.
Chin tucked in, just a flash of her
Metallic-painted eyes seen
Under the white-bright jewels fixed
Securely in the chocolate of her hair.
Open archways around the ancient temple
Show off a rising moon, framed by aspens.
The last ink blots of deep ruby, of gold,
Fade into constellations.
She hears the internal music
The insistent rhythm, the roaring crescendo
Molding her into a twirling goddess of evening.
Hand pressed against a pillar, he watches,
Barely daring to breathe
And when she rises, the formal disguise is
Lost when she catches and holds his azure gaze.
She plays and zigzags her feet
Over to where he waits, amazed.
Tips of her lips cracking into a small, soft grin
The moment he touches the silver fabric
At her hip, slowly, so slowly
Like she has the power to set the night ablaze.
When people are concerned about having to do something they haven’t done for a while, oftentimes friends and family members boost their morale by saying, “It’s just like riding a bike! It’ll all come back to you.”
The idea here being, of course, that no matter how long it’s been since you hopped on your bike to peddle down to the community pool, bike riding is so ingrained in your psyche, you’ll never forget how to do it.
Now, I’ve never been a stellar bike rider to begin with. I actually avoid it because I find it too hard to peddle uphill and too complicated to brake at a red light, jump off the seat, hold the bike awkwardly between my knees, and jump on again when the light sparkles emerald once more.
In any event, I’m a bigger believe in the “use it or lose it” syndrome.
I’ve been listening to “Eat, Pray, Love” on the way to work each day, and Gilbert’s love affair with the Italian language is making me long for Spanish class. After taking four semesters of Spanish in high school and two in college, I can barely get past “Hola, como estas?” these days. Sad but true.
I did want to continue with Espanol while in college; there was just one tiny roadblock. All the classes on the registrar’s website past the intermediate level included hundreds of pages of history and fiction reading, lengthy papers and a lot of analyzing Don Quixote. Since I was already majoring in English, I just couldn’t justify spending that many hours with my Spanish-English dictionary trying to make sense of idiomatic expressions or what was going on in Frida Kahlo’s mind. All I really wanted to do was speak the language, after all.
So I tell myself that one day, when I’m fully “grown up,” I’ll go to language immersion classes. The kind where you split up into pairs and create skits and repeat after the crazy lady penetrating your brain via headset. The kind you find a neon flyer advertisement for at the grocery store, the kind that can only be accessed by a downward sloping stairway under a big awning on a city street.
I imagine I’ll go to such a class after I’ve married well and sent my kids off on the great yellow cheese wagon known as the school bus. I mean, I can’t freelance all day, every day, right? And how much time does house cleaning, cooking dinner and doing the laundry really take? Ah, who am I kidding! I’ll have a maid! And a cook! Or better yet, my husband will cook. Some men do that, don’t they?
Maybe I’ll just cross that bridge when I come to it. But the bottom line is I’m annoyed I lost my Spanish skills. Not to mention my piano, golf, tennis, math and literary analysis skills in no time flat. This might be a slight exaggeration, but I feel like all my newfound journalism knowledge is pushing out the other things I’ve mastered, which now grow dusty and are rusting over in a small brain cavity somewhere behind my left ear.
And I doubt taking the GRE will be “just like riding a bike.” I doubt it’ll be as intuitive as taking the SAT was while I was physically still in high school. Maybe that’s because there wasn’t much that was actually intuitive about the SAT, even with the humongous study guide and weekend prep class. But I went to an elite liberal arts institution and earned a high GPA, so I’ll be fine, right? Right?
Don’t all jump in at once with your gushing praise for my brilliant mind and competent algebra skills!
Crickets . . . perfect.
Guess it’s time to bite the bullet and start studying this weekend.
It wasn’t until senior year in college that I had any idea what a “ring in the spring” even meant. The expression first came into my consciousness while working on a seminar paper that involved interviewing alumna who graduated from my college in the 1970s. The way they tell the story, catching sight of a diamond while studying with friends under the oak trees was a perfectly normal occurrence during their academic days.
I was amazed by how many of them wound up marrying guys they met at school or a few years later at alumni mixers. They made it sound so easy. “Oh, well, you know, he just brought me a soda at the first keg party of the year, and I thought that was so considerate.” Or, “We sat across the aisle from each other during Humanities and couldn’t stop watching each other.”
For my friends, finding a spark of mutual interest and later someone willing to commit enough to agree to be seen together in crowded places that didn’t involve flip flops sticking to beer-soaked frat floors was something to celebrate with champagne.
My own memories of fun-filled evenings spent dancing around with my best friends or indulging in late night heart-to-hearts with them when some guy crushed, as far as we could tell at the moment, the very fiber of our beings, flooded back to me recently when I read Susan Patton’s letter to the editor of The Daily Princetonian.
Her words, now infamous, were picked up by numerous mainstream media outlets, and she was–from what I could tell from my online research–mostly ridiculed and mocked by many women. They said her advice to college girls to find a husband while they were surrounded by many single, smart, promising young men was ridiculous. They said college was for receiving an education, not getting your MRS. degree. They said her thoughts had no place in the twenty-first century where the secretary of state and, for that matter, the president of Princeton, could just as easily be posts held by women as by men.
There was so much anger in these replies, and I’m still not completely sure why. Did these writers who took to The Huffington Post believe Patton was taking five giant steps backward for feminism? Did they think that couples never met at college? That marriage meant the end of all women’s careers? That no woman in her right mind dreamed of marrying her intellectual equal? That wanting to have children was a slap in the face to Gloria Steinem?
Most likely not. But I think there’s still a lot of backlash against women who say they desire the type of lifestyle women experienced for centuries: that of mother and wife. There also seems to be a growing skepticism about the idea of “work-life balance,” such that women who say they want to be mothers might as well be throwing their diplomas in the trash because they’ll never reach the pinnacle of their careers.
I think that’s pretty judgmental and not entirely true. I absolutely believe a woman can both work and raise her children successfully. But I think she needs a great partner whom she really clicks with in order to not feel utterly burnt out at the end of each business day. Not to discount single mothers who do an amazing job raising their kids alone! But if you’re going to be married and you want or need to work, wouldn’t you prefer to be committed to someone who supports you in your journey to excel at both tasks?
While I’m the last person to say that all women need to stay home with their kids, doing so or wanting to do so should not be seen as a crime against women. Those who make the choice to stay home permanently deserve just as much respect and help in raising the next generation as working moms.
I’m more of the opinion that women react very strongly to others who’ll say things they don’t want to admit about themselves. Certainly that doesn’t apply to everyone, but what Patton wrote was, logistically at least, accurate in my opinion. Where else will we be around so many young, available, smart, creative, equals of the opposite sex than at college? Well, there’s always grad school, but I digress.
In any event, I see my college-educated friends who don’t want to drive more than a half hour on the highway unless their boyfriends come along for the ride. I see the ones getting married at 22 and 23 and 24. I’ve seen the ones who forsake their friends for the chance to shine, however briefly, as the center of some man’s universe. The ones who’d give up not only their families, but their country, language and culture in pursuit of love because hey, you’re only young once, right?
I don’t blame any of them, and I try to make an active effort to support them in their journeys. I know I don’t always succeed, sometimes because I think they can do better and sometimes because I wish I was doing as well as they were.
I think Patton meant that today’s women are strong and capable and ready to charge ahead toward careers of their choosing. Yet I think she was suggesting there will be other things that become significant in the life of a woman beside work that we should all give the occasional thought to while we’re young in case we choose to shoot for those goals.
I think she was trying to whisper a quiet warning in the ears of those who seek the long walk down the aisle in the Cinderella gown.”Don’t wait too long…don’t pretend it doesn’t matter if you really want it.” Human relationships do matter, and forming healthy families certainly matters. It might as well be discussed in college–seemingly everything else is. And let’s not kid ourselves by saying the class of 2013 will fly in the face of convention by choosing to wed their cubicles.
Your briefcase will not share a joke with you at the end of the day, and your laptop doesn’t care when you don’t feel well.
There’s no shame in wanting to be married, and there’s no shame in never marrying at all. There is, however, in my opinion, a basic, human desire to find a worthwhile mate. Maybe even, as Charlotte York says in Sex and the City, to “mate for life.”
I think most people want to find someone who loves and understands them. And I don’t think that you should pass up that opportunity even if it happens to come your way in college. You might be a little young, and you’ll definitely still be trying to find yourself. But I for one don’t want to find myself lonely and bitter and taking cheap shots at young brides ten years from now. And all because I didn’t feel comfortable enough to admit I wanted to find a good husband just as much as I want to reach a fulfilling writing career and nurture strong relationships with my closest friends.
I’d be lying if I said anything else.
I’m not sure when it happened, but lately, a lot of the people I communicate with treat me like I’m their personal therapist. The only catch is I’m not making the big bucks, sitting on a plush couch, drinking mocha lattes, and scribbling notes into a yellow legal pad about how often they speak in the past versus the present tense.
Sometimes, after I’ve languished on my bed for a while and tried to offer up both sympathy and useful advice, just as I’m about to open my mouth to say something about my life, they’re ready to hang up!
And I’m not only talking about a select few. It’s becoming more-than-most of my twenty-something buddies.
I spend a good three to five hours on any given weekend fielding phone calls from friends looking for love in all the wrong (and right) places, the ones who know they really should fill out those grad school applications, the ones wondering if their careers are taking them in a viable direction and those who still can’t stand their parents.
I’m starting to think that when all your friends are in the same capsizing boat as you are—as in they’re the same age and also trying to find themselves and meet the minimum payments on their credit card– no one can fling the orange life vest out far enough to save you. They’re too wrapped up in all the same problems you have, so they don’t see them with the insight it takes to get beyond issues.
Now, while I’m flattered to be considered level-headed, diplomatic, empathetic, and a good advice-giver, HELLO! I need to talk about ME sometimes too.
So, for all of you out there who feel like you need someone to pour out your soul to, for all of you who feel exhausted, not to mention resentful, of always being considered the strong, stable type who absorbs others’ problems like a good sponge, I hear you. And I empathize.
The sad part is that when I turn to the thirty, forty- and fifty-something women in my life who have been-there-done-that and could offer up solid words along the lines of, “You¹re kind, you¹re beautiful, and you’re talented, so take a deep breath! Everything is going to work out!” they often come up a little, well, short.
They listen better than their younger counterparts, but I’m amazed at how encouraging they’re not. It takes a lot for me to be emotionally vulnerable, and I don’t enjoy doing it unless I feel safe and comfortable. So when I say applying to J school freaks me out because I feel like the odds aren’t in my favor or that I don’t want to attend a wedding alone when my high school BFFs will be there coupled off, that’s your cue to say something reassuring.
(In case you were raised by wolves and don’t know this).
Yet, when I confess, these women I’ve known and respected for years set their lips into a pursed-grimace thing and smile at me through these oh-you-poor-dear eyes.
Then they say things like, “Graduate school is a tough market. There’s stiff competition. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Or “Get used to feeling alone. Friends in relationships will leave you in a New York minute. They don’t want to hear about your yoga class! They want to chat about china patterns and how to hang curtains.”
Maybe that’s been their experience, and if it is, I’m sorry about it. I wish things had gone better for them. But why rain on my parade before it really even starts? Why drain my hope?
So here’s my advice to those of you, who like me, are feeling a little down now that the mega-blowout, glitter-ridden, Mojito-drinking birthday parties are no longer the norm and parties of one are no longer the exception.
Believe in yourself. Don’t depend on everyone else to do it for you. They’ll disappoint you eventually, guaranteed. It’s not that other people don’t care, but they’re human and living their own lives, which always takes precedent. One thing’s certain though: they’ll never know how you feel unless you tell them.
And here’s what you might want to mention to them (regarding themselves) and to yourself (regarding yourself): You are attractive, smart, capable, kind, fun to be around, and going places.
Everyone has inherent worth just because they are. Are what? Are in existence. Each unique individual on this planet is worthy because we are all another way universe is becoming conscious of itself.
And we deserve to be treated accordingly.
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting some hard battle,” Plato once said.
Even if they seem privileged and blessed to your eyes, it doesn’t mean that your friends don’t face challenging struggles. You may not know the whole story—you might want to listen. To know all is to forgive all.
Plus, your kind words could be the catalyst to get them believing in themselves, so they in turn can take actions to benefit others. If you can’t handle lower-level insecurities, how are you going to deal with facing a life-threatening illness, divorce, or financial problem?
In short, why aren’t we giving each other more hope?
No, it’s not always easy to listen and be present, but if you don’t do it, you can be damn sure you won’t be invited to the blow-out, glitter-ridden, Mojito-drinking parties future friend parties. Why not? Because you will not have earned a place at the table.
Our relationships could be a lot more fulfilling if we all tried to remember to treat other people like what they have to say is significant and valid. And if you can possibly spare them, words of encouragement are welcome.
Journalism provides a way to tell others’ stories and link people to their communities. It’s a good feeling to know that I’m helping raise awareness about a cause or that my words will live online even after I’m gone. Sometimes, when I write a piece that features just one person, I imagine that he or she will save the hard copy and show it to his or her children and grandchildren years from now.
Nevertheless, the creative part of me loves having a blog to write more freely. Sometimes I just get the urge to scribble down a poem that pops into my head. Although I find it hard to begin and even harder to follow through with, I’d really like to complete one novella at some point in the near future.
There’s something about the arts–whether its writing, painting, movies, singing or theatre–that cuts through to the heart of a matter. Translating the arts into an analytical perspective doesn’t work nearly as well as just trying to intuitively grasp them.
Although writing so many literary essays where you pick apart a work until you’re pretty sure you’re making it up as you go can make anyone feel like a crackpot psychologist. I guess I do miss that linear and literal writing as much as its creative counterpart.
So, in a tip of the hat to the literary community–the literati as I like to call them–I’m including two poems I wrote a few months ago into this post.
*** A Capitol July ***
A city in ruins
Stone wall rubble crumples into
Dust beneath the only feet
Left to walk down the abandoned
Streets, which once were paved
And shone like gold.
A sparrow arcs gracefully through
The sky beside a destroyed
Silver tower, looping off
Toward treetops on the horizon.
Far below, weather-beaten sneakers
Continue forward, ears waiting
For any sign of life.
A billboard ahead shows a young woman
With a too-bright, artificial smile
Fingers wrapped around a toothpaste tube.
Weeds push up through cracks in
Cement, a wooden swing creaks
In the breeze of a forlorn playpark and
The heat haze settles on vacant, overgrown
Lots on the outskirts of what was once an
Jungle-bright vines and wilting
Yellow flowers surrender to the
Dying sun and rising crescent
Moon. Night fall looms, and at last,
Beyond battered baker’s windows and the
Barber shop’s spinning chairs appears
The fence, straight ahead.
She finds the footholds in the
Tangled links, climbing higher,
Hoists over it onto the soft dirt
Path that winds into forest, natural noise, and
The last patch of daylight.
***Being and Becoming ***
Fifteen billion years ago
The universe exploded
A firework of color and sound
Raced itself to the edge of perception
For its pleasure of just because
We cannot be certain.
Like a toddler with sea legs
It reached and stretched
And grew–who knew–
Who could guess to what proportions?
The Earth became a speck
Of blue and green
Gliding through blackness in
Deep space, in no-thing-ness
Where all things are.
Like an elegant ice skater who
Twirls and cuts the ice with
Metal’s blade but cannot see
Her audience until the song’s
Last note fades
When dreamer and
Imagining know each other
For the first time.
House lights go up and
Absence with Presence collides.
And you and me and all we see
Are here, are now
Shared, multiplied, yet divided
By random strains
That plague our days
Of traffic and technology
Of what to eat and who to be,
Of gas prices and global war,
Thought-rich but in essence poor.
We try and fail and try again
To make it to that future
Moment where bliss
While folded laundry waits on steps
To be returned to closets
We jet off in steel rockets
Toward those other things
Between the no-things
Hoping to find buried treasure
In a wooden chest
On a red planet
Before the contractions start
And we are birthed again.
I can’t remember the last time I dressed up for Halloween. No, it’s not that I’m old, and I wouldn’t exactly say I’ve been apathetic to the holiday either. I always go into haunted houses even though they terrify me, I love crisp, fall evenings around a bonfire as much as the next girl, and after making it through four years of college, parties—and chocolate—have become necessities. So I’m not quite sure how the dressing up aspect evaded me for so long. Nevertheless, I think the last time I spent hours agonizing over my inch-long, fluorescent fake finger nails was middle school.
I know that in the past I’ve been a bedazzling witch missing two front teeth but sporting an awesome flappy skirt, Jasmine with a make-shift sapphire jewel headband rescued from an attic somewhere, a hippie with rainbow peace sign stickers stuck to my jeans, Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz who trailed red glitter from her shoes all evening, and in my very cute baby days, a chubby pumpkin.
And now the moment has come for me to shine again. At my first official office Halloween party. Well, the winner does get a paid day off work, after all. Who wouldn’t dress up for that? I’ve decided to go as Katniss from The Hunger Games, complete with a hunting bow and Mockingjay pin.
But the whole dressing-up thing got me thinking about the history of Halloween and how little I know about it. I even found myself flipping through the TV channels the other night, landing on the original, yes-Jamie-Lee-Curtis-is-really-only-20-but-looks-like-a-school-marm version of Halloween and realizing that I’d never seen it!
How could this be?? Was I a bad American? Apparently so as the Library of Congress filed away the film in 2006 after they declared it was of enough socio-cultural importance to save for future generations’ viewing pleasure. It was time for a little research, and since that Halloween episode I caught on the History channel last year was fuzzy in my memory, I headed online.
It turns out Halloween as Americans currently celebrate it derived from the ancient Celtic tradition of Samhain. This festival commemorating the end of the year took place on November 1 in what is today the United Kingdom, Ireland, and northern France.
As the biting winds rose and the leaves fell from the trees, Samhain was a signal that summer—and the harvest season—were over, and that the harsh winter was upon the Celts. They killed the weaker livestock that would not survive the season, and soon the celebration became associated with death and the belief that a wall which served as a thin separation between the living and the dead was torn open during this time, allowing spirits to circulate among the living. Many stories surround the tradition of Samhain, and nobody knows which ones are true. Some say the Celts left offerings of food and drink to appease the dead on that day, others claim that the Celts dressed up to scare ghosts away. Communal bonfires were most likely lit to honor Pagan gods with fortune tellers gathering around the flames to predict individual’s future paths. The Celts even captured bits of this “sacred fire” in hollowed out turnips, gourds, and rutabagas to carry back to their homes, and this tradition is said to have begun our modern carving and lighting of Jack-o-lanterns as pumpkins were more plentiful in the New World.
By the first century A.D., the Roman Empire had fought for, won, and begun to rule over most of the previously Celtic lands. Of course, they celebrated their own festivals in autumn around the same time as Samhain. One was Feralia, a day to honor the dead. The other was called Pomona for the Roman goddess of trees and fruit. Pomona’s symbol was the apple, which may have begun the Halloween tradition of bobbing for apples. In any event, over the next several hundred years, Christianity spread through the Celtic population, but Samhain could not be eradicated. So in 835 Pope Gregory IV moved All Saints Day—a Catholic holiday to honor dead church saints and martyrs—to November 1 to take attention away from Samhain. Nevertheless, parades, bonfires, and costumes still materialized in England the night before All Saint’s Day, which was also called All Hallows Day, and these evening ramblings became known as All Hallow’s Eve, and later, Halloween.
Undeterred, the Catholic Church declared November 2 as All Soul’s Day to honor the dead who were not saints to try to stamp out Samhain for good. On All Soul’s Day, the poor of Europe would go “a-souling,” traveling door-to-door asking for food. In return, they promised to pray for the souls of their neighbor’s dead relatives. Church officials encouraged this practice and hoped it would replace the old Pagan tradition of leaving cake and wine out on the doorstep for dead spirits. Believers often dressed in saint and devil costumes during these evenings of roaming, and it is thought that when children adopted the practices of their parents, they threatened to start street fires or break the windows of those who refused to give them food. Before long, these youths might have begun dressing up to avoid being blamed for the mischief they caused rather than for religious reasons.
So from the Celtic world lit only by fire to the mass commercialization of a holiday now only out-grossed by Christmas, we have the condensed history of Halloween. The only question left is . . . trick or treat?