I Celebrate Autumn, Halloween & Beggars Night

Getting read for Beggar’s Night

My son lives in the Midwest, and said this past week that he could smell autumn in the air. He also reminded me that autumn is his favorite time of year. MINE TOO. And I immediately felt nostalgic.

Because at this moment I’m a woman of few seasons, I’m in California. And though all parts of our beautiful country have seasons, some are more theatrical than others—and certainly living in the Midwest or the Northeast provides one with amazing drama. But this is not a post about global warming, though because of climate change the drama that our seasons present does often endanger people.

No, this is a post about enjoying seasonal change, of focusing on how autumn or if you prefer, fall—should be honored as a time of beauty, of subtle miracles, and of a call to all peoples to embrace one another.

THE SIGNS

Autumn encourages a settling in. Its chillier weather alerts us to our surroundings. Those who obey the law of spring cleaning—the open window thing—must acknowledge that autumn makes us turn inward. With windows closed, we can still tidy and organize, find that the comfort of indoors means more to us now. Our time inside is increasing.

And how delightful that Mother Nature imbued her trees and shrubs with fiery color during this season. Because we have learned to take those same warm hues of orange, yellow, ocher, and gold and bring them into our homes. We symbolically pull light and fire into our living spaces at a time when the earth is spinning away from the warmth of the sun. We need that warmth. We claim it once again with the pumpkins on our porches or kitchen tables, the colorful shawl, pillow or blanket in our living rooms. It’s like we’re lighting a fire that will burn safely in our homes, even after the sun goes down.

GATHERINGS

And no matter who we are or where we live, autumn increases the warmth between us, encourages us to join together. The turning inward flows in our blood streams, is part of our DNA. We remember an ancestral need for family and friends, for other warm bodies. We harken back to those who built fires, stayed in caves, built huts or teepees—all part of seeking the warmth of indoors, of others gathered close.

It’s a lovely co-incidence that our American forefathers and mothers celebrated Thanksgiving just when the sun was departing and the winds were blowing cold. It’s again a lovely coincidence that within the Gregorian calendar sits the special day of All Saints, from which came the concept of dressing up to honor a saint or to scare away the ghost of that saint and then later evolved, becoming the eve of all hallows or Halloween. The 31st of October.

Well, for my family, Halloween was the 31st of October, until we moved to Des Moines, Iowa. What a surprise when our son came home from school to tell us that now we would be celebrating Halloween on the 30th.

LOCAL COLOR and A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY

The current editor of the well-known magazine BETTER HOMES & GARDENS wrote recently about his move to Des Moines four years ago. Like us, Stephen Orr was surprised when he learned that Halloween had a new name and was celebrated on the 30th of October. Orr writes:

there are many special things about my new community, one of my favorites is the charmingly idiosyncratic way Iowa’s capital city celebrates Halloween. We don’t. In the late 1930’s Kathryn Krieg, recreation director for the city’s playgrounds, came up with a novel idea to discourage the recent outbreak of petty vandalism. By replacing Halloween with a holiday that occurs one day earlier (on October 30th) Krieg hoped to decrease the destructive behavior that had grown up around the holiday by substituting something more manageable—bad jokes. By the 40s, the holiday known as Beggar’s Night had become widespread, with school leaders and the local media helping establish the tradition. …From a 1948 article, here are the rules: “The kids will tell a joke, sing a song, recite, dance or ask a riddle. In return, they’ll want a stab at a cookie jar, ice cream tray or candy box.” 

Orr then writes about how he has come to enjoy this “different” version of Halloween.

When we were living there, we loved it too. The children would come up our front walk, already knowing what riddle or joke they were going to tell—and I was always at the door, ready with my treats.

“Why did the skeleton NOT cross the road? Because he didn’t have the guts.”

“Why can’t you hear a pterodactyl go to the bathroom? Because the P is silent.”

Orr writes and I’ve been a witness, that sometimes the younger children balk at having to earn their treat and yes—there have been tears on my front porch. But as Orr concludes in his piece:

Even so learning a bunch of 8-year-olds’ corny punch lines and witnessing a vintage slice of Americana that welcomes families from all walks of life are the only treats I need this Halloween.

Thanks, Stephen Orr—you too bring warmth into a time when the days are colder, darker and shorter!   HAPPY FALL, HAPPY AUTUMN, HAPPY HALLOWEEN –Everyone!

Photo: My front porch, ready for Beggar’s Night

8 thoughts on “I Celebrate Autumn, Halloween & Beggars Night

  1. Yes, the days of fall and Halloween, conjure up great memories. We longed for “Trick or Treating” through our Chicago suburb of Beverly. So important were these moments that one can even remember favorite houses and what they gave to those of us in costume. I can remember the year I went as a Viking with a garbage can lid for a shield and a helmet fashioned our of cardboard and aluminum foil. My Mom was a great supporter of the holiday and rarely prevented us from enjoying the candy we gathered. I can still taste the hot buttered pop corn on a cold night from the house of the corner of 101st and Wood. And the burning logs wafting up through chimneys for all of us to enjoy was we trounced from house to house, dragging our bags of candy…….Yes, fall is a wonderful time of year.

  2. Those are great jokes! I knew of Beggar’s night but my husband, a native Oregonian, did not! Halloween is always a fun Holiday for me.

    • Thanks, Haralee. I’m not sure any other state but Iowa celebrates this way. Something to research.

  3. I live in the Midwest and we just do the traditional Halloween. Back home in New England, which I miss every time of the year but for the gorgeous leave changes in the Fall, the night before Halloween was for playing pranks in the neighborhoods after dark, mostly not very nice ones and if you didn’t want you pumpkin run over in the street, you didn’t leave it out front until the next night.
    Happy fall holidays, Beth.

    • Oh you prankster. Wild child. Thanks for sharing, New England is glorious in the fall, and any time of year.

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