Halloween ~ An Irish Tradition

Halloween has always interested me – not just for the trick-or-treating or the costumes or parties, but for its beginnings as “All Hallows Eve.” While Halloween might be celebrated all around the world, it is steeped in Irish tradition, culture and in its both pagan and Christian heritage.

Long before Christianity arrived in Ireland, Halloween was known as Samhain. The Celtic year was divided into two parts – the Brighthalf which is called Beltane and the Darkhalf which is called Samhain. Samhaim - celebrated on October 31st – marked the end of the bright and the beginning of the dark. The Ancient Celtic New Year started at nightfall on October 31st and according to Irish tradition the “barrows and mounds” where the Sidhe (mythical Celtic gods) dwelled could open and they along with the dead could walk the Earth. This belief is fodder for some of the more scary aspects of Halloween. Legend has it as the end of harvest time and grazing time - and it is the time of great fertility. The custom of dressing up in costume comes from an old Celtic tradition when people used to dress in costumes that resembled evil spirits in order to placate them or ward them off – so as not to become possessed!  The Jack O’ Lantern – carved  in the shape of a scary face which is then lit up by placing a candle inside – has Irish roots but may have been carved in turnips – then later in pumpkins more plentiful in America.  Trick or treating is rooted in a time when the poor would go round to the rich peoples houses and ask for food or  money.

In Ireland the holiday of Halloween is not just celebrated on the one day any more - it is now joined with the Christian holidays of All Saints Day, November 1st and All Souls Day, November 2nd. The Irish brought the custom of Halloween to America in the 1840s. Here too Halloween is celebrated over many days. In the United States the celebration of Halloween alive and thriving and commercially doing very well!

A few more stories here and here.


This is a shout out to City Manager Bernie Lynch, Assistant City Manager Adam Baacke, the Police Department, and the rest of the City Hall team who helped synchronize the traffic signals between the Thorndike-Dutton streets blend up through the intersections of Dutton-Broadway, Dutton-Market, and Dutton-Merrimack. As a regular on that route, I can only imagine the savings on energy (gasoline) and reduced emissions resulting from the adjustment of the timing on that sequence of traffic lights. It is a model for what can be done on other roadways that jam up due to uncoordinated block-after-block signals. Making it easier to navigate the city streets is a plus for everyone. I heard that funds designated for energy savings were used to recalibrate the light sequence, which itself is evidence of innovative thinking among the planners.

Hurricane Sandy edition

Not much to report thus far today (Monday, October 29, 2012). The rain has fallen as a heavy mist/light rain since last evening. The wind which was a steady breeze yesterday and this morning is now a constant low growl outside the window. Almost all schools were cancelled today. The courthouse and the registry of deeds closed at noon and the MBTA, including commuter rail, shut down completely at 2 pm. Lowell City Hall will close at 3 pm and a shelter has opened at the Senior Center on Broadway.

It was a year ago tonight that last year’s Halloween snowstorm struck, knocking down countless trees and depriving many of electricity for multiple days. Last year at this time, most of the trees still had their leaves and they held so much heavy, wet snow that limbs cracked and fell on power lines and other things (like the rear window of my car). This year, the leaves seemed to have turned and fallen earlier so between that and the lack of snow, I hope the downed limbs are much less frequent.

While you still have power, please comment on this post to document what you’re seeing, hearing and experiencing during this storm.


The web gives us disturbance, uproar, commotion, and confusion for synonyms of “turmoil”—words that fit both the weather forecast and political forecast. A storm is not really an outside force since we are in nature, but there’s a sense that something is coming to get us, to make trouble on the East Coast. Nobody knows how damaging the winds and water will be. On the election front the situation is confusing because of the conflicting or unhelpful public opinion polls. Romney ahead. The President ahead. Romney gaining in the last days because of what? There’s a disturbing AP poll about racial attitudes in America. Anyone who thought it was going to be smooth sailing to re-elect an African-American president, the first one, was dreaming. The ad wars are in full assault mode. At this stage the charges are getting harsher and meaner, and there is not much time to respond to wild accusations or plain old lies. The candidates rush from state to state. There’s a new poll showing the President and Gov Romney tied in Ohio, which would be a huge shift if the data holds up. Gov. Patrick recommends that Massachusetts schools close tomorrow because of the mega-storm roaring toward us. Elizabeth Warren has put herself in a position to win next Tuesday. Wouldn’t it be bittersweet if President Obama lost and a Sen.-elect Warren started hiring staff for Washington? How much of a good thing would it be to have a President Romney traveling around calling Massachusetts “my state?” Would the Romney compound in La Jolla, Calif., be the western White House? How will the national Republicans react if President Obama wins narrowly and keeps his team intact?

I’m for the President, and I don’t consider myself naive, but it has been puzzling to me as I try to understand the visceral opposition to Barack Obama around the country. In my view he stands for what is right and good and has made important progress on some enormous problems, from the economy to foreign affairs. I’m not going to recite the laundry list here. A year ago, I was telling friends that I could imagine a scenario in which 51 percent of the voters decided that they wanted a businessman in the White House to kick the national economy in the butt and get more results. I don’t agree with Gov Romney’s approach, but I won’t be surprised if the majority of people vote for change in order to try something, anything, new. I do think it will be a shame that the national Republicans would have won by sitting on their hands and not helping the President—basically, trying to run out the clock until next week. After the Republican primaries, I didn’t think the election would be this close, although, as I mentioned above, I never thought it would be easy to re-elect the first Black president. How bad was that comment by Romney campaign spokesperson former N.H. Gov Sununu, downplaying the value of Gen Colin Powell’s endorsement of the President? Is Sununu for Romney because they share a racial group? I think there are voters who were shocked that Sen Obama defeated Sen McCain four years ago. Those folks have been getting ready to vote against Obama for four years, especially if they didn’t vote or get politically involved in 2008. I’m eager to see the voter turn-out numbers next Tuesday. The early voting has been heavy, I’ve heard and read—and that early voting has favored the President, according to a news report last week. We’re about to get pounded by rain and wind for the next two days. If the storm called Sandy was a soundtrack, its impending chaos would be in line with the political movie we find ourselves in at the moment.

Driving back home from Vermont late yesterday, my family and I saw President Obama’s motorcade heading north on the highway near Nashua. The overpasses were shut down and guarded by police cars, a long section of Route 3 North was shut off, and a phalanx of green State Trooper cruisers escorted the President’s limousine, staying close, front, back, and sides. We were excited to get a glimpse of an historic figure as the vehicles sped by on the other side of the grassy median. We couldn’t see him, but we knew he was in the car. That was good enough for us.

Got generators?

After losing power for five days after last Halloween’s snowstorm, I vowed to get a generator before the next major weather event. I procrastinated a bit but last week, well before any talk of Hurricane Sandy, is began serious shopping. Here’s a photo I took at Lowe’s on Chelmsford St of a Troy-Bilt machine that I contemplated purchasing (I bought another brand elsewhere). Last night I was in Lowe’s for something else and out of curiosity I wandered through the generator section. The machine I photographed plus the 8 or 10 others that were on hand a week ago were all gone. Not a single generator in sight. Hopefully no one will need one.

GLAD Annual Fall Brunch

Bruce Mann, husband of Elizabeth Warren

The Greater Lowell Area Democrats held their Annual Fall Brunch this morning at Lenzi’s in Dracut. Many Democratic candidates were in attendance. The main speaker was Congresswoman Niki Tsongas but the person who was given the most attention was Bruce Mann, the husband of Elizabeth Warren. Mann made a compelling case to support Elizabeth in a witty, understated way. There was nothing understated about John Tierney when he took the floor. The Congressman from Salem who now represents Billerica and Tewksbury made an impassioned indictment of Republican rule in Congress saying that sending any Republican to Congress from Massachusetts just reinforces the extremists already in leadership positions.

State Senators who spoke included Ken Donnelly, Barry Finegold and Elizabeth Donoghue along with Mike Barrett who is seeking the senate seat now held by Susan Fargo. State Representatives who spoke included Tom Golden and Jim Miceli and candidate Ken Gordon of Burlington, who is seeking to fill the seat now held by Charlie Murphy. Other speakers included Governors Council candidates Marilyn Devaney and Eileen Duff (separate districts) and Middlesex Sheriff Peter Koutoujian. (Also present was Lowell City Councilor Marty Lorrey and School Committee member Robert Gignac).

The final speaker was John Walsh, chair of the state Democratic Party. He shared some numbers from Lowell and Dracut. In the 2008 presidential election in Lowell, Obama received 20,576 votes to McCain’s 10,363. In the 2010 Senate special election, Scott Brown received 10,548 votes to Martha Coakley’s 9547. In Dracut in 2008, McCain received 7284 to Obama’s 7216. In the Senate special election, Brown received 7656 votes to Coakley’s 3156. Walsh pointed out that Brown’s vote total in Lowell and Dracut just about equaled McCain’s vote total while Coakley’s vote was 15,000 less than that of Obama. According to Walsh, Brown won in 2010 because he got out his vote while the Democrats did not. He said the key to a victory for Democrats in general and Elizabeth Warren in particular was to get those 15,000 people who stayed home in 2010 (and many others who acted similarly across the Commonwealth) out to the polls for this election.

Leading newspaper wimps out on editorial endoresements by Marjorie Arons-Barron

The entry below is being cross posted from Marjorie Arons-Barron’s own blog.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has announced it will no longer endorse political candidates, except in some rare undefined instances. What a travesty! Let’s face it. A newspaper or television station’s endorsement of a candidate probably has little impact on how most people cast their ballots on the highest visibility races. But that newspaper or television station spends time and effort every other day of the year researching and evaluating public policies and other social issues. The editorial endorsement is the culmination of that ongoing work. Which is the candidate who will best effect the values that the media outlet has promoted day in and day out? That’s what the endorsement process is about.

As one of my colleagues in the Association of Opinion Journalists has wondered, how can a newspaper, in a world of rampant (and, I would add, often uninformed) opinion making, abdicate its community responsibility to take an informed stand? In explaining the paper’s decision, David Haynes, the editorial page editor, and a member of AOJ, wrote, “Our positions have long been infused with thought from across the political spectrum.” And, “No party or ideology has a monopoly on good ideas – or bad ones.” Yesss, but an endorsement is not of a party but of a candidate. Sometimes a paper will endorse a Democrat, sometimes a Republican, sometimes even an independent or third party candidate. It’s the presumed wisdom of an informed editorial board that assists the public in the sorting out, especially in the lower level offices to which little attention has been paid.

The Boston Globe tilts significantly toward Democrats but sometimes endorses a Republican. The Boston Herald tilts significantly toward Republicans but every once in a while endorses a Democrat. For readers who pay regular attention to the newspaper’s editorial positions, such a shift can be illuminating and instructive. That endorsement poses the question: despite a candidate’s agreement with the paper on policy issues, what experiential differences or character flaws warrant a tilt in the opposite direction? (Admittedly,unfortunately, sometimes publishers override editorial board choices and internal politics color the process.)

The suspicion lurks that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel lost subscribers when they endorsed Republican Governor Scott Walker in last spring’s recall vote and that the decision not to endorse is a financial one. So they’re taking the coward’s way out. Better not to offend. Shame on them. I might not agree with a particular endorsement, but, like Voltaire, would defend not just the right but the responsibility to take that position.

When WCVB-TV Channel 5 made political endorsements back in the day, many readers and even some of our own reporters, got upset. They thought it compromised the credibility of the news reporting, rendering it suspect. But when people called the station to complain, it was usually about our choice, not the process. Those who did complain about our endorsing I would remind about the firewall that exists between news and editorial. And we encouraged debate. Critics and opponents got plenty of opportunity to air their replies. The Journal Sentinel says it’s opting in favor of vigorous commentary and input from many voices. That’s wonderful. That dialogue should happen. But that doesn’t negate the value of an institutional voice.

An editorial is marked “opinion.” It already has the consumer warning label. Where a newspaper or television station should be concerned is when its news side camouflages editorializing by the selection and non-coverage of stories, the tilt of its reporters, the tone of its headlines, the deliberately unflattering photos used, the message sent even in where stories are placed. Sorry, readers in Milwaukee, you lose in this misguided call to jettison candidate endorsements.

I welcome your comments in the section below.