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A Smart Set Halloween Classic: Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."

By Morgan Meis

Thanksgiving is a solid holiday. It has its rituals, mostly related to food, and its stories, mostly about colonists cooperating with Native Americans that (to put it politely) play fast and loose with the historical record. Thanksgiving celebrates a foundational moment in the New World and is thus a most American holiday. Revolving around family and food, Thanksgiving brings feelings of comfort, warmth, and a pleasing if indefinite sense that everything in this country is as it should be.

Not so Halloween. Halloween is about masks and the supernatural. It is a nighttime affair that flirts with the unknown. Halloween deals with evil. It’s rooted in celebrations of the harvest and the feast days that come from various European traditions. It is also a death holiday, perhaps because it originally marked the time for the slaughter of livestock. Anyway, the living and the dead are supposed to mix it up a little on All Hallows’ Eve. The boundary between the underworld and the world above can, for a short time, be crossed.

There is something romantic about Halloween. By romantic I mean that it dips into mystery and myth, legend and the unseen. Yeats, who knew little shame as an artist, once said, "I believe in the practice and philosophy of what we have agreed to call magic, in what I must call the evocation of spirits, though I do not know what they are, in the power of creating magical illusions, in the visions of truth in the depths of the mind when the eyes are closed." That even Yeats hedges a little in his admission (the phrases "what we have agreed to call magic" and "what I must call evocation of spirits" show a certain hesitation) proves how uncomfortable it is for modern society to speak of magic. And Yeats even had Ireland, a bottomless treasure trove of legend and myth and storytelling.



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