With the heat and humidity of summer finally slinking away, it's time to get down to the business of fall. And as always, the first order of business is Halloween.
You can rev up your shopping genes in advance of the holiday season, comfortably knowing that this year's costume selection will be creepier than ever. I don't know about you, but my few remaining brain cells that weren't fried over these past months have all but forgotten the reasons for Halloween so it's time for a refresher. Let's scare up a little history.
Given its ancient beginning, it's not surprising that the origins of Halloween are anything but straightforward. Even the name varies by region. Nonetheless, its roots appear anchored in the Celtic celebration known as Samhain when keeping ghosts at bay was the excuse to build bonfires and don costumes. Somehow the event morphed into a day to celebrate saints, eventually prompting Pope Gregory III to institutionalize Nov. 1 as All Saints Day on which to do so. As Catholicism spread throughout Europe in the 9th century and beyond, so did the new holiday.
It took about a thousand years for the idea to cross the Atlantic but eventually All Saints Day became a thing in New England, though mostly as a harvest festival. Perhaps early colonists figured that ghosts couldn't swim.
By the beginning of the 20th century, Halloween (as it was now known) was a secular event celebrated heartily by both young and old. Perhaps too heartily, in fact, for by the mid-century era town elders were taking steps to tamp down the mischief that had become associated with the day and turn it into more of a kid-friendly celebration. Trick-or-treating, an old idea but one that had faded into obscurity, was revived, leading us to where we are today.
Apart from candy and costumes, Halloween spawned some unusual rituals in its early days. Many revolved around the idea that unmarried women could divine their prospects of snaring a husband by burning a hazelnut or littering the floor with apple peels. Today of course we have eHarmony and Match.com so much less of a mess needs to be made. All the same, watch out for black cats, since in earlier times they were regarded as reconstituted witches. You never know.
And as for costumes, almost anything goes in these days of teeny weenie bikinis and other skimpy outfits. The idea that less is more has devolved into less being, well, less. Men have it a little easier as a rakish hat and battered trench coat can be enough to convey sinister intentions. My dad used to wear a plaid sport coat with a huge plastic knife protruding out the back and pass himself off as Mack the Knife. You can probably do better, and antique galleries like ours are great places to do so.
Hey, it's a weird holiday and a wacky kickoff to the winter season so you should have a little fun. But remember what I said about cats.
Mike Rivkin and his wife, Linda, are longtime residents of Rancho Mirage. For many years, he was an award-winning catalogue publisher and has authored seven books, along with countless articles. Now, he's the owner of Antique Galleries of Palm Springs. His antiques column appears Sundays in The Desert Sun. Want to send Mike a question about antiques? Drop him a line at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Antiques: It's almost time for costumes