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    Halloween, Gay High Holy Day

    By Dr. Tim Seelig–

    Today’s article comes out on October 31. It’s Halloween! Of course, this brought me to thinking about the holiday, how I observed it as a boy, how Clara (Tim’s granddaughter) celebrates it today and what everyone is doing to commemorate a holiday for which no one really knows the “Why?”

    So, I went to the History Channel ( https://www.history.com/ ) to get an idea of the origins. Oh my. If you have time, go look it up. I am not a historian, but there were some amazing discoveries. I’ll summarize: Halloween is perhaps our oldest shared holiday. It’s older than Christmas! Sorry, baby Jesus.

    Halloween has a very crooked road and very mixed metaphors. It’s not unlike the confusion at the holidays surrounding Christmas: the manger and the North Pole fighting for top billing. Or Easter with the cross, colored eggs, and bunnies. Yes, indeed, Halloween has lots of twists and turns: pagan and Christian.

    Reading about it, I can see that there is no wonder that evangelical folks do not allow their children to celebrate Halloween. Growing up, our church held “Harvest Celebrations” at the church. No costumes. No candy. No witches or devils, for god’s sake. No debauchery or human sacrifices. Just apple-bobbing, Cornhole, and prayer for the heathen children dressed up and raking in treats unimaginable. OK, I digress. But that’s the truth.

    2,000 years ago, the Celts celebrated their new year on November 1.This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred.

    On the night of October 31 they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to Earth. To commemorate the event, Druids, Celtic priests, built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes.

    Enter Christians stealing the fun. On May 13, 609 A.D., Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon in Rome in honor of all Christian martyrs, and the Catholic feast of All Martyrs Day was established in the Western church. Pope Gregory III later expanded the festival to include all saints as well as all martyrs, and moved the observance from May 13 to November 1.

    Then it jumped the Atlantic. Borrowing from European traditions, Colonial Americans began to dress up in costumes and go house to house asking for food or money, a practice that eventually became today’s “trick-or-treat” tradition. Young women believed that on Halloween they could divine the name or appearance of their future husband by doing tricks with yarn, apple parings, or mirrors. This is one tradition that the gays should definitely revive.

    Confused with the path our Halloween took along its way? Me too. But here we are. We now celebrate the harvest by dressing in fabulous and outrageous costumes. We gather in a variety of places. We still go from door to door of bars. We linger in the streets as if it were the Easter Parade.

    Over the years, those dressing up have decreased in number such that we now see lots of lookie-loo’s who don’t want to go to the trouble to dress up, but who instead just gawk at those who had the courage, for one night a year, to become someone else! And what is really confusing is that we do not celebrate Halloween on October 31. We celebrate it on the Saturday before the 31st, to avoid school nights.

    If Halloween is a High Holy Day for the gays, San Francisco provides a smorgasbord available in no other city in the world. Certainly a world away from the Harvest Celebrations of my youth.

    Sister Dana leading the Children’s Halloween Parade on Castro Street (2013)

    “Saints and Spinners” Spinning with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.
    “Daytime Disco T-Dance” at the Virgin Hotel.
    “Drop Dead Sexy at the Kabuki Hotel.”
    “Nightmare on Van Ness,” which is actually trying to drive on that.
    “Scare Grove,” “Bootie SF” at DNA Lounge, ”Halloween Cruise” on the Hornblower.
    “Cabargay” with the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.

    Reading that list, I do not see one Celtic bonfire. No animal skins or sacrifices. No crops burned.

    What I do know is how an 8-year-old celebrates Halloween in San Francisco. I know it first-hand. Clara has been planning her costume for months. She and her girlfriends have wavered.

    They are too young for the cartoon characters. We used to grab three cardboard boxes, paint them silver, and be a robot; or find an old sheet and become Caspar the Friendly Ghost in about 2 minutes. But, no. When I asked if she wanted me to take her costume shopping, she simply replied, “No thanks. Amazon!” How about Sponge Bob? “Really, Bop Bop?” Last year, she was Rey from Star Wars. That’s so 2018. They are going as either doughnuts or witches.

    Photos from theoccultmuseum.com and scentbase.com

    And what will they do? They live in nice neighborhoods, so they may Trick or Treat near home. But they have also heard of a neighborhood in Mill Valley with the best treats in the Bay Area! Seriously. Pac Heights also has great treats—trading in Snickers for Godiva. But the hills.

    So, Clara’s Dad will join with the other parents in scouting out whatever the girls want to do—decided at the very last minute. We don’t yet know what her generation will be called since we already used Z! But if Generation Z makes plans last minute, this new one may just never make a plan.

    They will not be going door to door for bread. They will not be going door to door for Martini’s. They will not be going door to door for a variety of things that we used to get, such as homemade popcorn balls, caramel apples, cookies, brownies. No more. Even well wrapped candy gets an eyebrow from some. Small toys or tchotchke’s are good. We hated people who gave us erasers instead of peanut M&M’s.

    Cliff’s Variety Store Window (2019)

    Clara will come home with a plastic pumpkin full of “treats” that have been swept with the care of a TSA agent. They will be made with great concern to avoid all allergies, keeping in mind that there will be children who are allergic to most of the things that we used to eat. No nuts. No dairy. No chocolate. Vegan. Lactose intolerant. Gluten free.

    And yet, she loves it so much. As do her friends. They have no idea what they are missing from the “olden days,” except for what I will most definitely tell her! For Halloween, her rock band the “Kawaii Pomeranians” gave a concert—playing both of the songs they know. The attendees were all dressed up for Halloween. The parents (and grandparents) got to have beer! 

    At the end of the day, Halloween is a fun Holiday. I’m not sure the Druids would approve. It’s a long way from animal skin costumes to the Dominatrix or Sexy Nurse! I am absolutely certain Pope Gregory III would be pissed off. Our Colonial Forefathers would be very confused. The evangelicals are still afraid of the witches and devils. And now we grandparents just say, “Kids today …” and indulge their every wish.

    Am I dressing up? Haven’t decided. I’ll let Clara decide and make sure that she orders me a strawberry glazed doughnut costume—with sprinkles—in Adult XL.

    Hope you have a blessed holiday however you choose to celebrate it.

    Dr. Tim Seelig is the Artistic Director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.