I admit I’ve not fully come to terms with Halloween, not having grown up with this holiday in my culture. I have gone to cemeteries—in Transylvania, where this bit of Catholic tradition is strong—on All Souls’ Day (Nov. 2) to photograph flowers upon slab stones and around crosses, and, being young, didn’t feel the weight of it all. Now I do. And perhaps for this very reason Halloween may be a welcome holiday, as each culture should have one such occasion where death is treated more lightly.
I get the sense though that for many people in Halloween-celebrating countries, and especially for (most) children, this holiday is just pure fun. I’m trying to see it more like that myself too, but for now I admit I can’t wrap my mind around it, which is why when I tried to come up with some creative designs for Halloween trick-or-treat tote bags, I came up empty. But I did find some very funny and cute image concoctions on Zazzle. Here are some of them.
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I learned this year that the word Samhain for the Celtic festival which morphed into Halloween actually means “summer’s end,” while also pointing to the Celtic New Year’s Day (on Nov. 1–which makes Oct. 31 New Year’s Eve), the time when the spirits of the dead roam the earth with the living. I kind of knew that, but learning about the Mexican Day of the Dead a long time ago and being struck by how many stark symbols of death it uses (hint: skulls) I lost track a little of the fact that the Celtic holiday started in good measure as a harvest celebration as well. So it’s quite fitting to have lots of pumpkins for the holiday. It’s also fun to play with pumpkins (I tried it here in Romania, in the days when we didn’t celebrate Halloween), much more so than with turnips, which is what the descendants of the Celts in the British Isles had before their tradition, with some of them, emigrated to America.
Strange how I didn’t know so many things about the history of Halloween until this year. It goes to show that when a cultural phenomenon is so pervasive you can lose track of what this and that element in it actually means. I actually thought that jack-o’-lantern was no more than will-o’-the-wisp, that treacherous flickering light that takes shape when gases ignite when they emanate from a bog—and yet there’s this Irish folktale about a certain Jack lost in between heaven and hell. What a strange notion, isn’t it?
Anyway, I like that the designer of the above image chose to show Jack-of-the-Lantern/the Headless Horseman in a friendly way, which doesn’t scare little kids. He wears a crown and his mantle is decorated with hearts. And the unicorn is shaggy and cute, and has around his neck a vine with a bunch of grapes, which points not only to the end of harvest time but also to Christian symbolism. (The crown and hearts possibly do too.)
And here’s a little history of the unicorn
The unicorn idea started with a Greek writer, Ctesias in 4th century BCE commenting on some “wild asses” in India, who had a horn and looked rather unbelievable for an actual creature—their horn, for instance, was part white, part crimson, and part black. Then they had dark red heads and a white body. Then Aristotle followed Ctesias when he, too, mentioned the “Indian ass” along with another one-horned animal, the oryx. Pliny the Elder also mentions them, along with a “monoceros.”
When the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek and Latin, some scholars translated the Hebrew “re’em,” a word for an animal they were unsure about but knew to be horned, with “monoceros,” and “unicornus,” respectively. And then in the early-17th-century King James Bible we got unicorn.
This re’em in Jewish folklore was a formidable beast, larger than a mountain. The word “re’em” in the Hebrew Bible, however, seems to point to “rimu,” a large ox mentioned in many old Hebrew texts.
In the meantime, in the Christian tradition the various notions of the unicorn were conflated into ideas of Christ with his cross, as well as immortality, wisdom, and marriage. And this unicorn is often accompanied by a virgin, as in the Unicorn Tapestries of the Cloisters, the medieval art museum that belongs to the New York’s Met Museum. Here’s more about these super famous tapestries on Artsy.
I, too, happen to be inspired by some of these notions of the unicorn, and have created various Christmas products with it, such as the pillow below.
But more about Christmassy unicorns later.
To a happier, healthier life,
P.S. October 5, 2021. So, I went wild with it and created some Halloween totes myself as well, after all. I do like a challenge when it comes to being creative. Granted, my designs are a little out there this time, but still, I think they’re fun. I hope some of you will like them too. Here’s one tote.
P.S. 2. October 5, 2021, evening. I’ve kept at it and may just have gotten a little bit better. Here are two more designs in the “scary cute” category, with a girly unicorn and fun jack-o’-lantern pumpkins as well as scary bats and cats (and an even more scary font for the words “Trick or Treat!”).
I hope you enjoyed this post. If you found it useful in any way, I’d appreciate a share 🙂