Tue 26 Oct 2010
Halloween, which will be celebrated Sunday, has its origins in the Celtic festival of Samhain. The name comes from an Old Irish word meaning summer’s end.
The ancient Celts of the Iron Age and Roman era believed the border between this world and the Otherworld was thin on Samhain, allowing both good and evil spirits to pass through. This, in turn, inspired the Celts to disguise themselves with masks and costumes to avoid the evil spirits.
With the Catholic celebration of All Hallows Even, — the night before All Hallows (Saints) Day — falling at the same time of year, the two events came to be blended into Halloween. Trick-or-treating originated in the Middle Ages as a practice of poor people going door to door and receiving food in exchange for praying for the dead.
A great horned owl I photographed from my deck at twilight last week.
The symbols of Halloween eventually came to include, along with costumes and masks, jack-o-lanterns (which in the British Isles were originally carved from large turnips), black cats, bats, and owls.
Nor are owls, bats, and black cats the only spooky apparitions around my cabin this Halloween. A deck wraps around two sides of the cabin with steps leading down to the ground at both ends, and at 6:20 a.m. today I was awakened by the sound of footsteps scurrying past my bedroom window.
When I looked outside, I was amazed to see three foxes holding footraces back and forth around my home. Two of them were neck and neck with the other in a distant third place.
A winsome fox steps inside my kitchen.
As previously noted, three gray foxes have taken to dropping by each evening, hoping I will put out bread or peanuts for them.
For three or four years, I have periodically put out the same snacks for my raccoon neighbors, but now the raccoons must compete with the foxes.
They get along with each other fairly well, and I have seen a fox and raccoons eating peanuts nose to nose without conflict. Last night, however, my friend Lynn Axelrod saw one sly fox snatch a slice of bread from between the paws of a raccoon that was about to partake of it.
When the fox tried to do it a second time, however, Lynn cut loose with a Halloween-style “Boo!” and the fox ran off. From the raccoon’s perspective, Lynn had probably just fended off an evil reynard from the Otherworld.