Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC -- a VOA Special English program about music and American life. And we answer your questions.
But first -- some explanation.
Holidays in U.S.
Our VOA listener question this week comes from Kathmandu, Nepal. Sunil Dhungana asks about the major holidays in the United States.
There are national holidays, like Labor Day, Veterans Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving and Martin Luther King's Birthday. Federal offices close. State and local governments and schools often close too, as do many private workplaces.
Many Americans also observe major holidays of their religions. The Constitution calls for separation of religion and government. But government offices and public schools, and most businesses, traditionally close for Christmas.
Now, there are other holidays that some people would surely consider major. But no one gets the day off from work or school. These are observances like Valentine's Day and Halloween. In fact, today IS Halloween, a celebration that goes back more than two-thousand years.
October thirty-first was the Day of the Autumn Feast for the Celts of ancient Britain. Celtic priests prayed that the spirits of the dead would return to their homes for a few hours. The Celts built huge fires to frighten away evil spirits released with the dead that night.
Hundreds of years later, the Roman Catholic Church made November first a day to honor Christian saints. It was called All Saints Day or All Hallows Day. The day before was known as Hallow Eve or Halloween. The name came from the church. But the traditions were closer to the old Celtic beliefs.
People from Scotland and Ireland brought these traditions to America. Many believed that spirits played tricks on people the last night of October.
In the late nineteenth century, American children helped the spirits with tricks of their own. On Halloween, they would do things like change street signs or put a wagon on top of a house. Many Americans continue to celebrate Halloween. Children and adults go to parties dressed as ghosts, monsters or famous people. Many children also go house to house yelling "trick or treat" and asking for candy. If the trick-or-treaters do not get what they want, they may play a trick. But usually they get the candy.
One thing is known for sure. Many people enjoy visiting places thought to be occupied by the spirits of dead people. Old stories say ghosts do things like move furniture and turn lights on and off. When these kind of things happen in a house, it is said to be haunted.
One of the best-known haunted houses is the Whaley House, in San Diego, California. People say numerous ghosts live in the Whaley house, including those of past family members. Workers in the museum and some visitors say they have observed ghostly activities.
Another place is a big home in New Orleans, Louisiana. Madame Delphine Lalaurie lived there in the eighteen-thirties. She had slaves, and old stories say she treated them violently. Now the house is a favorite of visitors. And they report numerous frightening noises and images inside and outside of the house.
To experience a haunted house for more than a day, you can stay in a haunted hotel. The Groveland Hotel in Groveland, California, has a ghost they call Lyle. It seems he likes to play with the lights, move things in the office, and turn on the water in the bathrooms.
In Union, South Carolina, guests find out that ten ghosts live at the Inn at Merridun. The Inn has a history of unusual happenings and ghostly appearances. And the owner’s cat reportedly often talks to "someone” -- we're not sure who.
Many other places in the United States have haunted hotels, too. If you ever decide to stay in one, just make sure the ghosts are friendly!
All the monsters who come to the front door are frightening enough. But Halloween also brings out scary music in homes and parties. Faith Lapidus has more.
An album called "Andrew Gold’s Halloween Howls" is filled with songs for children. The opening song is called “It Must Be Halloween.”
Another album, “New Wave Halloween” brings back songs by bands of the nineteen-eighties. Here is Oingo Boingo with “Dead Man’s Party.”
Forget the rock and roll and children’s music. Some of the scariest sounds perfect for Halloween come from the world of classical music. Picture now a deathly individual, playing a violin in a burial ground at night. Skeletons move about to the music. Here is the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra performing Camille Saint-Saens' “Danse Macabre.”
This is Doug Johnson. Our program was written by Chi Un Lee, Nancy Steinbach and Caty Weaver. Our producer was Paul Thompson. And our engineer was Skip Sisk.
I hope you enjoyed AMERICAN MOSAIC. Join us again next week for VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.