Halloween. Blame ancient Celts for laying the foundation. Blame modern adults who want to escape into a fantasy. Blame the movies. The annual celebration of the weird owes as much to Hollywood as it does to 2,000 years of myth and lore.
Ancient Celts called it Samhain, pronounced SAH-win. On that last night of the calendar year, it was thought the spirits of all those who had died during the previous 12 months could possess a living person.
Houses were left dark and dank. Bonfires were lit to distract body-hunting spirits. The living wore costumes made of animal heads and skins. They blackened their faces. Children were given treats on the off-chance a goblin was hiding among them.
Since the Celts believed the head contained the spirit, fearsome human faces were carved in hollowed-out turnips. Credit Stingy Jack, a hard-drinking old farmer on a green Atlantic island not so different from our green islands in the Pacific.
It's said Stingy Jack tricked the devil into climbing a tree. The farmer carved a cross on the tree, trapping the devil. The devil condemned Jack to wander the earth at night, guided through the darkness by the flickering light of a candle inside a hollowed turnip, a jack o' lantern.
In America, the Celts discovered pumpkins were much easier than turnips to carve.
Ireland is a place of magical stones. Hawaii has pohaku ready to speak to anyone who will listen. Ancients in both places believed this world was not the only world and it was possible to move from one to another. Celts believed the veil between this world and the other came down once a year. In Hawaii, that veil dropped every night. During the hours of po, gods and demigods walked the earth, some making mischief while others consorted with mortals.
There are stories of night marchers, ranks of warriors moving across the island in a rustle of capes and rattle of spears. There are stories of dogs accompanying spirits in the dark of night. There are stories of disembodied dead delivering warnings and advice to those willing to listen. There are many stories about a hitchhiking wahine being given a ride only to disappear while inside the car.
"The people of old sincerely believed and said the ghost gods of the night (akua hele loa) were spirits of the dead," wrote S.N. Holokahiki, a student at William P. Alexander's Theological School in Wailuku.
Out of respect, not fear, it was believed best to avert your eyes from the warriors, step aside for the dogs, listen to the counsel of kupuna gone by and smile at haole accounts of a mysterious woman.
For the ancient Irish and their kin in the craggy highlands of Scotland, Samhain didn't become Halloween until the seventh century. The Roman Catholic Church co-opted the most fearful night on the Celtic Calendar. Pope Boniface IV decreed Nov. 1 as All Saints Day, or All Hallows' Day. The night before was All Hallows' Eve. That became Halloween.
But not the Halloween we know. Check out the fake spider webs, ghosts and goblins decorating even the most staid offices. Note the popularity of fangs dripping blood. All of that, and more, can be traced to movies that became popular in the silent days of film. Each new film since has tried to make spooks spookier.
No one knows for sure when Halloween was first celebrated on Maui. There is a reference in The Maui News to a Halloween party held in 1901. Perhaps the holiday was imported by Scottish masons brought to the island by the plantations.
In Lahaina, Halloween began simply. A few costumed adults left their home parties to parade down Front Street. Each year, a few more joined the promenade.
At its peak, Halloween in Lahaina drew upward of 30,000 individuals. Merchants had a one-night economic windfall. Organizers stepped in and one year went across the line when they used the image of headless Hawaiian warrior.
Lahaina is not Sleepy Hollow. Revelers increasingly went for shock value. A video focusing on the more outrageous participants in one year's event was shown repeatedly on Akaku's on-demand channel.
Hawaiians were incensed and did what they could to stop what they called a desecration of the culture. Maybe it is. Maybe it's just an aggregation of adults who can't let go of a childish delight in things that go bump in the night.
* Ron Youngblood is a former staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is email@example.com.