In my defense, Halloween didn't start out all hoary and gory like it is now. I mean, it was melo-dramatic and probably kind of terrifying for your average celtic Pagan. But now, when you compare All Hallow's Eve, Stingy Jack, All Saint's Day, and bonfire-attracted bats to the melted-faces and hockey masks of modern day, you can see why some of us might want to hide out in the popcorn balls watching "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken." (Awesome-silly show, by the way, starring the absurd and irreplaceable Don Knotts.)
I mean, if I were an ancient Celt, I would totally get the whole "October 31st is the last day of harvest, and therefore the end of bounty, and the end of well-lit evenings, and also the end of anything good and wonderful for quite awhile--in fact it's probably so much the end that our dead ancestors will shoot up out of the ground and walk the land, and hey, I don't want them taking my soul so I'll dress up like one of them and they'll leave me alone"-thing. I would.
And then when the Christians came around and put their "All Saints Day" celebration right up against Samhain (name of the aforedescribed celtic end-of-everything holiday, pronounced sow-an, and literally meaning "summer's-end") it would make sense that the traditions of both would intermingle. So, you had Celts dressing up as spirits to fool the real spirits into leaving them alone, and Christians dressing up as spirits to let the real spirits know they weren't the boss of them. You had the poor going door to door asking for "Soul Cakes" in return for prayers for the homeowners' ancestors, and you had people visiting cemeteries to bring the last flowers of the season to those who'd gone before. Voilá. Dressing up to go Trick-or-Treating, and all of its trappings.
But I'd bet a bucket of dunked apples that nobody dressed up as Jason, Leatherface, or Hannibal Lechter back in the day.
I guess I'm just a Halloween wuss. I like your basic witch stirring a bubbling pot. A ghost peeping around the corner and grinning like Casper. I think spiders and bats make great porch decorations. And I'm pretty sure doughnuts and spiced cider are far too civil for a horror halloween.
So, if you want Don Knotts and dry ice, come on over to my place. I'll tell you the one about Stingy Jack; the Irishman of such terrible drunken character that the devil came to take him early. And when Jack realized his time was up, he invited the devil for a last drink, even talking the host of the fiery realms into paying for it by transforming into a silver coin. When Jack tricked ol' Scratch by popping him into a purse containing a cross, the devil agreed to leave him alone for ten years in exchange for his release. But Jack was smarter than that. And when the ten years was up he tricked Beelzebub again by enticing him to climb an apple tree and carving a cross in the trunk. This time Satan was defeated and vowed never to take Jack's soul.
Trouble was, when Jack did die shortly thereafter his wretched soul prevented him getting into heaven. St. Peter wouldn't have it. So he headed to Hades. And because of the promise he'd extracted from the devil, he was turned away there too. But not before Satan tossed him a coal to light his way in the no-man's land between realms.
To this day you can see Stingy Jack wandering through swamps, around dark forests and villages, using the devil's coal in a carved turnip for a lantern, trying to find rest. If you're descended from the Irish -- or know someone who is -- then you keep the big orange American version of Jack's lantern in your window or on your porch. Just in case he's tempted to visit.
See? Now that's just scary.