How Did We Get Halloween, Anyway?

Vintage postcard HalloweenGood question. It’s definitely not an American-born custom, though we have run with it to a greater extent than the country of origin: the UK. English, Irish, Scottish, and no doubt the Welsh, too, honored the custom of November 1 as a Christian feast day of All Hallows’ Day or All Saints’ Day (“hallow” being another word for “saint”). The evening before was, naturally, All Hallow Even, which became Halloween, which in turn got a bit tangled up with the Celtics’ Samhain, the day when two worlds, the living and the dead, came together, and, presto, you’ve got a fall night with some scary stuff and mischief.

vintage-halloween-postcards_black-catIn America, it grew as a celebration in the 1800s when the immigrants arrived in waves from the UK. And by the early 1900s, it had become a bit too pranky and troublesome. Eventually, with the first “trick or treat” in the mid 1930s,  the mischievous pranks were traded for a more child-friendly custom. Costumes and candy came a decade later.  Find a collectible vintage postcard, and it may be worth more than penny candy.

Anoka, MIWhat is the Halloween capital of the U.S.? If you said Salem, MA, you’re . . . WRONG! Anoka, Minnesota, was the first city in America to officially hold a Halloween celebration in 1920, so it may lay claim to the title though the people of Salem may argue.

However and wherever you celebrate your Halloween, I hope it’s a happy one.

Discovering Hürrem Sultan: It All Started with a Horse

Hurrem SultanRecently, I was co-authoring a medieval tale, The Black Knight’s Reward, with Marliss Melton. She’d named the hero’s horse, Suleyman, and I wasn’t sure that our knight would use that name in 1155 A.D. I started researching its origins and learned about Suleiman and his wife, Roxelana.

She is a fascinating creature from mid-16th century Turkey, then the Ottoman Empire. She was a woman who knew how to get her man and to keep him. She went from being a captured slave, forced into the sultan’s harem, to his favorite consort, also known as haseki. But that wasn’t enough for her. She went from haseki to Hürrem Sultan, a title demonstrating her powerful position as the sultan’s wife.

How did she do this? She converted to Suleiman’s faith and used the tenets of that faith to ensure he would not have sex with her outside of marriage, and then she withheld sex. Three days later, he asked her to marry him. And he must have loved her beyond all measure to break a 200-year-old custom of the Ottoman imperial house: Sultans do not marry their concubines. But he did.

Intelligent and influential, she became the sultan’s partner, not only in his bed and his household, but in ruling and political affairs. As his chief advisor, she earned a salary and became one of, if not the most powerful women in Ottoman history. Eventually, she became mother to six children, all of whom who lived became rulers in their own right. Additionally, she enjoyed her role as a philanthropist, sponsoring schools and mosques, a women’s hospital, and even public fountains.

I think she’ll make an excellent character in one of my next novels–a woman who used her brains even more than her beauty to create her own future.

Under his pen name, Muhibbi, her adoring husband, Sultan Suleiman, composed this poem for his wife:

“Throne of my lonely niche, my wealth, my love, my moonlight.
My most sincere friend, my confidant, my very existence, my Sultan, my one and only love.
The most beautiful among the beautiful…
My springtime, my merry faced love, my daytime, my sweetheart, laughing leaf…
My plants, my sweet, my rose, the one only who does not distress me in this world…
My Istanbul, my Caraman, the earth of my Anatolia
My Badakhshan, my Baghdad and Khorasan
My woman of the beautiful hair, my love of the slanted brow, my love of eyes full of mischief…
I’ll sing your praises always
I, lover of the tormented heart, Muhibbi of the eyes full of tears, I am happy.”

Agree or Disagree — Brexit Is History in the Making

brit_flagIs this the end of globalization? The end of the EU? Perhaps the end of the world as we know it?

People are lining up on both sides to judge, mock, celebrate, condemn — and it’s only been a couple of days. But everyone is suddenly an expert on what this small island country should have done. I say, Keep Calm and Love British. Pour yourself a cuppa and give them, oh, I don’t know, maybe a week to settle into their newly voted independence.

Just heard an NPR report that said the vote to leave the EU was cast by the less educated, older people of Britain and that the younger, more informed Brits voted to stay in the EU. Then they interviewed a woman in her 50s who was a very savvy banker. She voted to exit even though it would be tough in the short term, with reasons of wanting control of British law, economy, and immigration back in British hands. And the younger people on the Underground (the “tube”) who were interviewed said merely that the older generation had screwed them by voting to exit. When asked the consequences, they said that it would be harder for them to travel around Europe (aw!! poor things) and that the older generations just weren’t very tolerant of people of other ethnicity. But they couldn’t articulate very well their reasons for staying no matter how many ways the reporter asked them the question and tried to make them seem thoughtful. It rather put the lie to NPR’s generalization about educated vs. non-educated voters.

The Netherlands may be next with Nexit and France with . . . well, they could come up with something quite colorful that I won’t write here.

And now, a couple days after the historic vote, it’s rather cool to see other European nations supporting the Brits and putting the blame for the Brexit wear it belongs, firmly on the shoulders of the EU officials. BBC:

“European newspapers see the UK Brexit vote as a serious blow to European unity and a warning that EU politicians must address widespread economic pain.

There is a general view that Europe is struggling with a dramatic turning point in its history.
‘Everything has changed’

The front page of France’s Le Figaro says ‘everything has changed’ because of the UK vote. Its editorial makes a criticism – echoed widely in the European press – that the EU has become too remote from voters.

This is ‘the end of Europe as we knew it’, writes Philippe Gelie, and the EU must ‘review everything – methods, objectives, and participants’, in order to save itself.

Le Monde’s editorial sees the vote as the response of those “abused by globalisation… which in Europe is represented by the European Union’.

It warns European leaders that if they do not address the decline in wages and public services that many Europeans associate with migration, populists will continue to tempt voters with their ‘miracle cures – or worse’. See the BBC article here for more: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36629063

Ultimately, history will judge the British on whether this was the right move for their country. But right or wrong, this was a vote, an honest referendum by a country whose majority wants it to go in a different direction than that in which it has been going. And that’s their prerogative.

However, there are a lot of pundits and other opinionated folks who seem to think the majority should have shut up and sat down. I have a good, thoughtful friend who has shockingly labeled these 52% of the British voting populace as “bigoted, narrow, and backward looking” because she doesn’t agree with what this sovereign nation wants to do. And she thinks Scotland should pick up their marbles and go home, too — meaning exit the UK (Scexit??). The Scottish have been talking of doing that long before the UK’s EU troubles. And I for one wish the Scots the very best if they decide to break off their union with the UK, because that’s the right of the Scottish people and should not be judged by anyone not living there, feet-on-the-ground.

I hope people will untwist their knickers and give the people of the UK (“the lone wolf” as the British Isles has now been called) a chance to see if this works for them rather than condemning them for trying to control their own destiny. I raise my tea cup, my pint, and my bag of Maltesers to the Brits. And I will end with this German newspaper’s sweet headline (though it may have been written ironically, who cares?):

welldone