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Remember the warning of misfortune

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COFFEE WITH KEITH

Next week, all those little ghosts and goblins – as well as countless other creatures – will take to the streets in search of goodies.

Ah, yes, October 31 – Halloween and trick-or-treating.

A little online research revealed that it is believed many of our Halloween traditions originated from ancient Celtic harvest festivals and All Hallows Eve.

It’s noted that trick-or-treating started in our country in the 1920s, but the origin of going house to house collecting food in the fall goes back at least as far as the 16th century, as has the custom of dressing in costumes to do so.

In 19th century Britain and Ireland, there are many accounts of people going house to house in costume at Halloween and reciting verses in exchange for food. Sometimes, those exchanges included a warning of misfortune if they were not welcomed.

Additional research turned up that the carving of pumpkins – jack o’ lanterns – is named after the phenomenon of a strange light flickering over peat bogs, called “will o’ the wisp.” The carving of vegetables has been a common practice in many parts of the world for a long time, and gourds offered an easy target.

It is believed that the custom of making jack o’ lanterns at Halloween began in Ireland in the 19th century.

By those who made them, the lanterns were variously said to represent the spirits or supernatural beings or were used to ward off evil spirits. For example, sometimes they were used by Halloween guisers to frighten people, and sometimes they were set on windowsills to keep harmful spirits out of one’s home.

There you have it.

When I was growing up, Halloween was one of the annual highlights of kiddom. Of course back then, way back in the 1960s, most of us walked around our neighborhoods unsupervised in homemade costumes and were given full-size candy bars. Forget those bite-sized nuggets.

I remember my sister and I walking blocks away from our house with no parents in tow and coming home with so much loot that we got tired carrying it the last block or two home.

I remember dressing as a clown, Batman, a baseball player, Tweety, Underdog and the World War I flying ace of Snoopy fame.

In high school, I dressed as a cheerleader – complete with skirt, sweater and freckles – and rode the bus to school in costume.

Back then I had the legs for it.

In college, three of my buddies and I purchased cheap, plastic Richard Nixon masks at a local department store, put them on, and visited a philosophy class in which we were not members. We did not say a word as we sat in the back of the room.

When we left a few minutes early, the professor simply said, “Thanks for stopping by.”

Those were the daring days of youth.

Growing up, ghosts, skeletons, witches, devils, princesses and football and baseball players were popular. I also saw Frankensteins, Draculas, mummies, pirates, scarecrows and various animals.

When my daughters were growing up, Disney characters remained popular. I remember Lion King getups, Ariel from the Little Mermaid, Aladdin and some Mickey Mouses, Cinderellas, varieties of the seven dwarfs and others.

Today, you have no idea what’s going to greet you when you open your door. It might be a critter from Jurassic Park, Darth Vader, a Paw Patrol character, Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th fame or just about anyone – or anything.

Over time, costumes have gotten much more elaborate – and expensive. In fact, it’s estimated Americans spent about $3 billion for Halloween costumes last year.

Many of those costumes have withstood the test of time, but just about every year, some new ones pop up.

According to Time Magazine, the top costume from 2018 was characters from the Fortnite video game. That was followed by Spider-Man, unicorns, dinosaurs and witches. Rounding out the top 10 were superheroes with an emphasis on Wonder Woman, pirates, rabbits, princesses and … of course … clowns.

But, no matter who or what rings your doorbell on Oct. 31, beware. And remember that exchange that includes a warning of misfortune if they are not welcomed.

Trick or treat?

As always, thanks for reading.