Halloween should be the genealogists’ holiday. Our Celtic ancestors believed that on this night, Samhain (pronounced sow-en), the dead walked the earth. It was possible to commune with those who had crossed over, and necessary to appease those of them who might have an idea they could return to the world of the living.
Our Norse ancestors had a similar celebration earlier in October, called Winter Nights, which celebrated the harvest and honored the disir (protective spirits). The ghosts of departed loved ones returned to feast with the living.
The Christian church took these pagan celebrations and turned them into All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2), when we honor the saints and remember the departed.
The name “Halloween” is a modernized form of “All Hallows’ Evening,” and this is the night where the customs of our pagan ancestors survive. We dress up, which was supposed to deceive the ghosts so they wouldn’t try to take over our bodies. We dance around, which was supposed scare off the ghosts. We share treats, which were originally bribes to pray for the ancestors of the giver.
Pagan or Christian, every genealogist has to love a night set aside to commune with ancestors. I know I do. Besides the fun, I say special prayers on Halloween.
This year I’m celebrating El Dia de los Muertos as well. This Hispanic holiday ostensibly celebrates All Saints Day and All Souls Day, but is really a survival of an Aztec holiday that fell in August. “Dead Guy,” a skeletal statue who has an honored place in our home gets neglected, but today I’m having a friendly dialog with him.
The Colorado Rockies aren’t doing so well in the World Series. First time there, maybe last time. Our boys are losing 6-5 as I write. Less humiliating than losing 13-1, as they did in the first game. I tried without luck to get tickets to today’s game. Even losing, I wish I had. The stadium is just a 15 minute walk south, and its parking lot is behind our complex.
Thinking about baseball has me also thinking about soft drinks. Which reminds me that I have a link to a map of the U.S. showing the generic names for soft drinks by county. Here in Denver, the leading term is “pop.” I call it “soda.” Must be a Utah Valley thing.
We were in Wichita over the weekend for a nephew’s wedding. One of the highlights of the trip for me was a night in Lindsborg aka Little Sweden USA. I’ve ordered Swedish chotchkies from Anderson Butik for over 20 years, but never thought that I’d be anywhere near the source. Not only was it on the way to Wichita, but we happened to be going through on the eve of their every-other-year blowout festival, Svensk Hyllningsfest. Local hotels were booked, but we found a room at the Viking Motel, had a delicious smörgåsbord at the Swedish Crown Restaurant, then strolled through town. The folks were friendly. We started at one end of town, and by the time we got to the other everyone knew who we were. Friday morning, we took another tour of town, bought some stuff at Hemslöjd, then on to Wichita. It would be a great place to retire.
I use the term Scotch-Irish, which requires some explanation, judging from the nearly hysterical emails I receive from time to time.
Many people erroneously believe that the term means something along the lines of “mixed Scottish and Irish.” Not so. The Scotch-Irish were Scots who lived in Ireland. The term is similar to other ethnic and national combinations, such as German-American.
The Scots in Ireland were a well-defined ethnic group in the 17th and 18th centuries. They were (typically) descendants of lowland Scots who took up farms in northern Ireland during the Ulster Plantations. Their descendants in Ulster became the Irish Protestants, still at odds with the Irish Catholics. Today, they call themselves Ulster Scots. In America, the same group historically called themselves Scotch-Irish.
Some amateur scholars prefer the pedantic emendation Scottish-Irish, on the theory that contemporary Scots distinguish Scottish (themselves) from scotch (whisky). I can hold my own when it comes to academic silliness, but I can’t understand re-renaming an ethnic group to conform to modern notions of style, while disregarding both their historic and modern names for themselves. I prefer the historically correct Scotch-Irish to the artificial Scottish-Irish (and to the demographically correct Ulster Scots).