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Bottom’s up, it’s Halloween!

[ 0 ] October 31, 2006 |

As we spend the day inserting sleeping pills and needles into miniature candy bars, jamming razor blades into candied applies, and coating lollypops with LSD and angel dust, it’s worth recalling that Halloween was probably a lot more fun when it was a drunken, violent holiday for adults. Until well into the 19th century, English and American Protestants rarely celebrated Halloween because it carried vestiges of the heretical Catholic and pagan feasts; until the American Revolution, if colonists in North America observed an autumn holiday, were more likely than anything to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day (November 5), which commemorated the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot — a “popish” scheme to blow up Parliament in 1605. Sentenced to be hung until not quite dead, then drawn and quartered, Fawkes himself managed to leap from the gallows and snap his neck before his scheduled dismemberment.

Halloween, though, was imported to the United States during the 1830s and 1840s by my own Irish Catholic ancestors, who carried on like rude, inebriated beasts — setting fires, engaging in “rough begging,” and even occasionally invading the homes of middle class urban dwellers to rifle their pantries, sit on their furniture, and drink their alcohol. As the nativistic “Know-Nothing” movement rallied in opposition to the Catholic menace — even going so far as to produce a healthy genre of anti-Catholic pornography — Halloween was gradually “disciplined” into a genteel, polite, middle-class holiday. Working class rowdiness remained a staple of Halloween, however, until the 1900s, when the “Century of the Child” (as reformers often called it) transformed into an insipid children’s affair.

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