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A Halloween proposal

by Chris Lowrance

Spending my entire life thus far in the South has crippled me. Sure, there are some upsides ­- I was perhaps the only design major in college that knew how to both fix a car, chop down a tree and fire a gun – but my ability to interact with the rest of the nation is forever tainted.

Case in point: As I write this I am sweeping my girlfriend of six years away to Salem, Mass. – a town that vies with New Orleans as the Halloween Capital of the New World. I started trying to book a room two months ago – plenty of time to find an affordable bed in downtown Salem on the most popular weekend to be there, right? Right?

Yeah, every inn, B&B, hotel, motel, motor inn, hut, hovel and clean patch of grass in Salem has been booked for the week of Halloween ever since All Souls Day 2006, so my best bet was a motel near Boston, a fact the various grumpy inn owners were happy to grunt through a phone before abruptly hanging up.

At least the South has better phone etiquette than New England.

Still, I could have guessed that Halloween weekend would be a busy one for Salem had I been from an area of the nation that actually celebrated Halloween, instead of actively campaigning against it. My own hometown of Liberty tries to reschedule the holiday every time it falls on Sunday, because apparently costumes and candy doth offendeth thy Lord God, amen.

To be fair, Dixieland doesn’t hold the patent on religious kookery. Go to a Halloween celebration anywhere in the nation and you’re likely to find a few protesters demanding you recant your wicked ways or some such. The problem is uniquely American – in Ireland, Halloween’s nation of origin, the holiday enjoys unopposed popularity with all faiths. I suspect this is another nasty lingering effect of our uptight Puritan founders, who also refused to celebrate Christmas. Fun guys, them.

But today, the land of cotton has a higher nutso-to-sane ratio than any other region of the country, and they’re all happy to tell you the problem with Halloween. It’s Satan. You know, the red guy with the horns and the pitchfork that talks backwards on Ozzy Osbourne albums? For some reason, they decided to superimpose the lead villain of the Judeo-Christian mythos onto a celebration that has nothing to do with it.

As you might have heard, Halloween actually originates in Samhain, an old Celtic festival celebrating harvest-time and the rich symbolism of the end of summer. It’s pronounced “Sow-win,” by the way. The same Wiccan girlfriend I’m dragging to Salem taught me that. Also, it’s “kell-tic”, not “sell-tic” – pronounce it wrong and she’ll hit you. Like most pagan holidays (Easter, anyone?), it took on Roman elements when the empire rolled in, and then Christian ones as the new church tried to co-opt popular festivals in order to easily convert the locals. It became one of Ireland’s most popular holidays, and became a big deal in the States during the potato famine.

Personally, Halloween is my favorite time of the year. The air grows chill, the leaves turn and the whole natural world seems to heave a great sigh of relief, like an old man who’s lived a good life. Folks used to say there was a veil between our world and the next, and it grew thin enough on Halloween to allow two-way traffic. Anything became possible.

I began drawing monsters, bats and witches as soon as my hands were able to hold a crayon, and I’ve loved Halloween just as long. Perhaps it’s genetic. Regardless, I always held a keen interest in the odd, the frightening and the darkly romantic. As I grew older, I grew goth, falling in love with sad music, pink hair, black clothes and Tim Burton.

And Halloween. And Kitty Campbell.

We were possibly the only two goths in all of Eastern Randolph High School, but that’s not why I fell for her. It was because of her uncommon beauty, her sharp wit and deep wisdom, her tolerance and compassion for the unusual and different. It was because of her mysterious nature, her unashamed mixture of cynicism and romanticism, her contagious laughter, and her appreciation of the irreverent and absurd. It was because she was born on Halloween and she embodies everything about the last day of October that enthralls me.

And that’s why I surprised her with this trip. It’s also why I’ll surprise her again this Saturday, when I ask her to marry me. If I’m lucky, by the time this prints I will be happily engaged, and the happiest I’ve been in my life. And Kitty and I will celebrate one king-hell of a Halloween.

To comment on this column, e-mail Chris Lowrance at Chris@yesweekly.com.

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