Sunday, November 13, 2016

Adolescent Angst and Halloween

In this excerpt of 12 Hours of Halloween, Jeff Shaeffer listens to his teacher's discussion of the historical roots of Halloween--including and explanation of Samhain.  

Jeff's minds soon drift, however, to thoughts of girls, and his gnawing adolescent insecurities:




I surreptitiously swiveled around in my desk so that I could steal a glance at Leah. She was seated two rows over from me. When I saw her I felt my heart flutter, as they say—and even at the age of twelve I had enough self-awareness to feel a little silly for this. As I’ve mentioned, I had been looking at her for all of my life.

After wearing her blonde-brown hair straight for years, Leah had of late begun wearing it in the feathered hairstyle that celebrities like Farah Fawcett and Jaclyn Smith had recently made all the rage. She had grown a few inches, too, so that we now stood more or less eye-to-eye. (My pubescent growth spurt, which would eventually bring me to my present height of 6’1”, would begin the following summer; but I had no idea of this at the time.) Leah’s legs were long, tanned, and lightly muscled. 

She was by no means the prettiest girl in the St. Patrick’s junior high. But she could easily be counted among the most attractive ones; and I grew more than a little anxious whenever I saw other boys talking to her—especially the taller, stronger, and more aggressive boys in the eighth grade.

“Halloween,” Mr. Snyder began, “was originally a Celtic holiday in the British Isles, known as Samhain. The Celts celebrated Samhain after the fall harvest. Samhain represented the end of the growing season, and the beginning of the darker time of the year.”

I was mildly disappointed. Halloween a mere “harvest holiday”? The beginning of winter? So what? But Mr. Snyder was far from done.

“Of course,” he continued, “there was a lot more to it than that. This is a spooky time of year, isn’t it? Have you ever noticed that?”

I involuntarily nodded, and felt a little chill. I remembered the figure whom Leah, Bobby, and I referred to as “the ghost boy”; and I wondered if we would see him during our walk home today.

“The ancient Celts believed,” Mr. Snyder said, “that this season at the end of the traditional harvest, between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice, was a liminal time.” Mr. Snyder paused, realizing that he had used a word beyond the range of the average twelve year-old vocabulary. “That means a time when the barriers between the world of the living and the world of the dead break down, or at least grow very thin. The Celts believed that the post-harvest holiday of Samhain was a time when the souls of the recently departed returned to their earthly homes, to visit their loved ones.”


Now I definitely felt the chill. I had been but a small boy when my grandfather and grandmother Schaeffer had died. My memories of them were fragmentary at best. If what the Celts believed was correct, then maybe they still visited us from time to time—perhaps on one night per year, perhaps more often than that. This thought was simultaneously comforting and unsettling.




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