For the first time in 74 years Barstow's annual Mardi Gras Parade, which had always taken place on Halloween night, was moved to another day, allowing Barstow residents, along with the rest of the country, to "trick or treat" and celebrate Halloween on its rightful date of October 31.

This allows area residents to attend the parade on the more convenient weekend, and permits our community the opportunity to enjoy the traditional Halloween night excitement. Halloween is a favorite "holiday" of both children and adults alike and has been celebrated across the country since the nineteenth century.

But unfortunately over the last 10 or 15 years, it seems that Halloween has gotten a bad rap. Some groups claim that this American tradition is too much a celebration of the occult, of our pagan roots, and leans too heavily on the wrong side of the supernatural.

What used to be a dress-up day at school with cupcakes and candy and a costume parade has had to be changed to simply a "Fall Festival," so as not to offend those who take everything too seriously.

Traditional symbols of the season such as witches, goblins, skeletons and ghosts have now become offensive. "Feeding the witch," which was the donation of canned goods to the poor, is now banned. This is a sad commentary on our culture today.

Halloween actually began 2,700 years ago as a Celtic celebration of summer's end and ritual for the dead. It was later adopted by early Christians to "honor martyrs and saints."

When the Christian church took hold in Europe, ancient pagan rituals were "co-opted" into festivals of the church. In a take charge type of decision to celebrate only the "hallowed dead," those in authority decided to change "All Hallow's" into the more specific "All Saints and All Souls Day."

As part of the ritual of All Saints Day, people would dress up in a costume that represented a saint, and young men would go "door to door begging for food to feed the town's poor."

Halloween was actually brought to America in the late nineteenth century as an Irish-Scottish festival associated with the harvest. Even the jack-o-lantern comes from traditional Irish folklore.

Originally in Ireland turnips were carved out and candles were placed inside to help a lost spirit named Jack find his way back home. And so the term jack-o-lantern remains the same today. When immigrants came to America pumpkins were in greater supply than were turnips, and so the carved pumpkins with a light inside became what today is the most recognizable Halloween icon.

When the Irish immigrated to the United States with their own customs, they were combined with an existing American tradition called "Autumn's Play," which was a celebration where people gathered to sing, feast, light bonfires and watch children parade around in costumes.
All of these traditions helped shape what we now know as Halloween, so whether we all approve of it or not, Halloween is an American tradition and always will be.

A recent Scripps Howard News Service survey taken regarding the celebration of Halloween, found that "Seventy-three percent said they approve of this festival, 20 percent object, and 7 percent were undecided." This clearly indicates an overwhelming approval rating for this holiday. The respondents felt that Halloween is generally a good, wholesome activity for children.

The survey also pointed out that people who describe themselves as "very conservative" were "three times more likely to disapprove of Halloween" than were self-described respondents who considered themselves to be "very liberal." "Evangelical protestants were twice as likely as Catholics to dislike" the Halloween celebration.

The popularity of this holiday can be measured also in dollars and cents. According to USA Today, Americans spend a total of seven billion dollars a year on Halloween, second only to Christmas. Halloween is also the third-biggest party day: an estimated 50 million people host or attend gatherings. Americans spend millions of dollars on costumes and purchase 9 billion pieces of candy. "Every year an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 haunted houses open around the country; before 1970, there were only a handful."

All of this celebration is dedicated each year to an "unofficial holiday," rooted in pagan ritual, early Christian observances, and some even suggest the "occult." But today, the tradition resembles those early beginnings very little. Halloween is a good time to have some fun and escape for one night from the real world which becomes more depressing daily. Happy Halloween.

ABOUT THE WRITER Carol Jensen is a long-time Barstow resident, graduating from Kennedy High School and Barstow College, where she was an English instructor for many years. Much of her time now is spent writing political and social commentary. She may be contacted at cajensen49@msn.com.