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October Smiles (Odd Socks #6)
Fall colors, Halloween's curious history, all-things-pumpkin, memories ... plus the usual Listens/Reads/Laughs/Insights bonus features
Welcome to Odd Socks Issue #6, the October/Halloween issue!
I write here about stuff that interests me, puts a smile on my face, or could use some clarity amidst the noise. Each issue includes two original articles plus four bonus sections. Enjoy!
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It’s no mystery to me that three of my favorite things align within the same month: fall colors, all-things-pumpkin to eat and drink, and Halloween.
Pumpkins talk to me. Pumpkins, Pumpkins, Pumpkins. Giving off an aura of my sacred mental state, they embody a base for the joy of living, a living shared by all of humankind on the earth. It is for the pumpkins that I keep on going. - Yayoi Kusama
My favorite ironic fall colors story is from 2006 when I traveled to New Hampshire to see New England’s glorious fall colors. The night before I arrived, they experienced a derecho which had the rude indignity to strip the fall color leaves from ONLY the top half of every tree! Weirdest fall foliage I’ve ever seen. So much for my picture-postcard expectations. Ironically, when I landed back in Ohio and the three-hour drive home, I saw more (and better) colors! Leaf peeping, it seems, can be a fickle art.
Not irony that my favorite color is orange, because I’ve always been a fan of Halloween and it’s dress-up monsters, and October’s fall colors and falling temperatures If I had to pick one month to take off and do nothing you can guess which one I’d pick.
To be truthful, winter is my favorite season: a time of rest and renewal, fireplaces, hot cocoa, and reviewing one’s past year while planning for the next. But as a lead-in, Autumn is awesome and October is the signal month that we’re in full-fall mode. Love to take drives to see color, the wardrobe change into layers and sweaters, and of course, Halloween.
Many of you may know Halloween’s history, but if not, a quick primer. Believed to originate as Samhain, an ancient Celtic festival marked by bonfires and wearing costumes to keep ghosts away. Later, around the eighth century, the day became known as All Saint’s Day, with the lead-in evening as All Hallows Eve, eventually became what we know now as Halloween.
I was born on the night of Samhain, when the barrier between the worlds is whisper-thin and when magic, old magic, sings its heady and sweet song to anyone who cares to hear it."
– Carolyn MacCullough, from the novel Once a Witch
Trick-or-treating, carving pumpkins, and the other joys of that one night evolved much later, and as with most holidays, boosted by marketing efforts of entities profiting (candy and costume companies, at least in the U.S., plus Dentists treating kid’s teeth!).
13 Weird Halloween facts:
Pet costumes – Americans go ga-ga over dressing up Fido or Fifi, spending almost $500 million on pet costumes (2021 … doubled that spent in 2010).
Second biggest economic-boost holiday – Americans spend an estimated $6 billion at Halloween, second only to Christmas.
Dressing up – Some might think this is an American thing, but the tradition of donning a costume on All Hallows Eve began early with European and Celtic roots. Originally meant to help hide from ghosts, the thinking was doing so would make one look like a fellow spirits to the ghosts out to haunt on that dark night.
Fear of Halloween – Samhainophobia
Pumpkin carving – Origin of this popular tradition began hundreds of years ago in Ireland, although with potatoes and turnips. The Irish immigrants coming to America get credit for the current jack-o’-lantern carving tradition, finding pumpkins-a-plenty when they migrated to America.
Pumpkin food crops – Native Americans started growing pumpkins thousand of years ago, resulting in their prevalence in New England when European settlers arrived.
Belgium’s big one is still the heaviest: 2016 - 2,624 pounds
USA’s biggest: 2018 - 2,528 pounds
Largest pumpkin pie: Ohio, 2010 - 3,600 pounds, 20 feet in diameter
Medieval trick-or-treating – Known then as “souling,” it was a Christian rite of the poor to go door-to-door offering to pray for the departed in return for a soul cake.
Whom will I wed? – Scottish girls would hang wet sheets in front of the fire and believed they’d see an image of their future husbands in the sheet.
Another old tradition – Wear your costume inside out and walk backwards on All Hallows Eve and at midnight you’ll see a witch.
Halloween babies – Tradition holds those born on this night can talk to spirits.
Odd Halloween laws:
Mask wearing banned without a permit – Walnut Creek, California
Illegal for those over 13 to ask for candy – Bellville, Missouri
Over 16? Illegal to wear a mask: Dublin, Georgia
Dressing up as a priest or nun? Sorry, that’s illegal in Alabama.
Number of pumpkin-flavored items at Trader Joe’s (2021)? – 75
That last one is dear to my heart. Each year I enjoy seeing what pumpkin-flavored wonders they come up with (and yes, I realize none of these have real pumpkin in them). My two favs: Mini Pumpkin Biscotti, and Sweet & Savory Pumpkin Spread (like jam). An annual tradition that begins in late September and runs through October. Have to be alert though: some items are one-time shipments.
Whatever you do this All Hallows Eve, I hope you enjoy the brief moments of this deep tradition. And if you have wee ones trick-or-treating, be sure to check their candy!
Took the kids out trick or treating when they were just wee tots one year. My oldest at the time (five) sort of clicked on what was going on, but quickly figured it out that ringing doorbells meant candy! At one particular house, the owner thought he was so cute that she held out the big bowl of candy and told him to pick some. His response? He sat his bag down underneath the bowl and tried to pour the entire bowl into his bag!
Teenage days in a Chicago Northshore suburb meant no costume (or only cool ones). We’d roam around, flirting with girls, yet occasionally wanting some candy, thus ringing a *few* doorbells. As I recall, the flirting usually failed and eventually we got hungry enough to forget about cool and went for the big candy haul. Learned that if you followed costumed kids to the door, candy givers didn’t care that you were not in costume.
When my boys were older, we spent one Halloween day intricately carving three pumpkins (representing the three of us). Sadly, overnight some vandals hit the complex, taking and smashing porch pumpkins, then tossing them in the complex’s pool. Next morning was a difficult fathering moment to explain to my two young boys the what and why of our missing pumpkins. They insisted on going to the pool (aka, “graveyard”) to say goodbye to their temporary round orange “friends.”
From the department of shameful Halloween teenage pranks:
We dressed up a scarecrow of sorts, stuffing straw in clothes, making it lifelike (and our height). We then wandered around with it between two of us, toss the scarecrow in front of an oncoming car, then run, laughing. Surprised we didn’t give any driver’s heart attacks. Stupid us.
Last, from the department of semi-harmless Halloween pranks:
As teenagers, we roamed around late one Halloween night and pulled real estate for sale signs out of yards, then moved them to other houses not for sale. I think we did about a dozen such sign swapping in one large subdivision. Another of life’s funny-at-the-time, but stupid-in-hindsight moments.
Since it’s that season, here’s a Halloween-focused podcast for your listening pleasure and creepy fix. Hosted by Lucé Tomlin-Breener, It’s Always Halloween is a year-round podcast with lots of variety: history, traditions, and of course, some spooky stories.
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