Roots and Branches: A Halloween gift

Addams Family members Kendra, left, and Cooper “Gomez” Case, after Friday’s performance.

Photo by Maija Yasui
Addams Family members Kendra, left, and Cooper “Gomez” Case, after Friday’s performance.



Since this column will run on Halloween, I thought it might be interesting to see how this celebration has evolved and how we might add to our current traditions. There is a common thread among the many articles written about the origin of Halloween. The celebration is truly an amalgamation of multiple cultural and religious celebrations that have evolved over centuries and continents.

Its historical roots may be traced back to the Celts of Britain, Ireland and France, who on the last day of the Celtic year, Oct. 31, celebrated the end of harvest and a day when spirits roamed the earth. Some of the spirits were mischievous and others evil. Huge bonfires were built to keep the evil spirits at bay, and the Celts dressed up like animals to disguise themselves as evil spirits so as not to be mistaken as humans. Perhaps this tradition was a forerunner of present-day Halloween costumes.

The colors associated with Halloween may be traced back to the oranges of the fall harvest and deep black representing the darkness of death.

Roman and Christian influences gave Halloween its name, All Hallows Eve, since it preceded All Saints Day, Nov. 1, and All Souls Day, Nov. 2. The Irish prepared for All Hollows Eve by the poor going door to door asking for food and money to prepare for the celebration. They carried hollowed out turnips (not pumpkins) with candles to guide their way and keep away the ghosts or evil spirits. In exchange, they offered to pray for the spirits of the dead relatives so that tricks would not be played on humans. The roots of trick or treating?

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Halloween did not make its voyage across the Atlantic to America alongside the Puritans, who had cast aside these pagan traditions centuries before. It took a large migration of Irish to the U.S. in the mid-1800s to bring Halloween to our mainland. By then, it had gone through several transformations, combining a variety of cultures, customs and traditions, but including the tradition of trick-or-treating, wearing costumes and holding parades and parties on Oct. 31.

Carving pumpkins rather than turnips was an evolution of fall harvest celebrations in the United States, although European cultures transitioned turnip to Jack-O-Lantern carving in accord with a folktale about a poor soul named Jack, who lived as a ghost between heaven and earth. Halloween continued to evolve with the capitalistic culture of our country, transforming Halloween into one of the most profitable holidays of the year, second only to Christmas. Candy and costume sales making up the bulk of the profits.

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I think the introduction of a Halloween tradition in Hood River should be the resurrection of the musical “Addams Family” each and every October or November. I attended opening night last Friday and was captivated by the performance. Nary an empty seat could be seen in the newly remodeled Bowe Theater, giving the student thespians and musicians an adrenaline rush that was palpable throughout the performance.

Curtain to curtain, the evening was filled with giggles, guffaws and a tear-filled two-minute hysterical run of laughter that accompanied Fester’s serenade to the moon. Political innuendo updated the performance and senior citizen jokes sprinkled throughout brought my silver haired peers into the fold. The musical had something for everyone.

The live orchestra set the house rocking with synchronized toe tapping and finger snapping as would be expected from the Addams Family soundtrack that plays over and over in our television memories. Dan Kenealy is an extraordinary director who bathes the audience in music, setting the tone and mood for each line delivered.

As the grandparent of one of the performers, my eyes were glued to Kendra Wilkins as she and her fellow dance team captains, Sage and Sadie Fetkenhour, danced and sang their way through the evening accompanied by an entourage of ghostly Addams ancestors. The costumes were the epitome of the Walking Dead. Their makeup horrifying, their routines mesmerizing, the singing exquisite. These talented performers could have stepped into any one of the starring roles at a moment’s notice.

But oh my! Those in the starring roles shone as brightly as the full harvest moon from the first moment they stepped on stage.

Cooper Case is an extraordinary talent. Yes, I am prejudiced, having considered Cooper a part of our extended family for years. We have watched him perform since middle school in “The Lion King,” “Shrek” and “Peter Pan,” then on to “Catch Me If You Can,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and now Addams Family. His ability to do it all has grown exponentially from two left feet to back flips and the Tango, and he has swashbuckled his way into our hearts. When Cooper takes the stage, he no longer performs, he becomes the character in all respects, comfortably, confidently and charismatically. His voice fills the theater with clarity, emotion and rhythm.

You couldn’t ask for a cast of more Halloween-ish characters. Freya Chase as Morticia, Ren Tappert as Fester, Atari Gauthier as Wednesday, Sofie Larsen-Teskey as Grandma, Eli Happy as Pugsley and Skyler Beard as Lurch, who managed to steal scene after scene without uttering a word.

Perhaps not as Halloween-ish but the perfect foil to the spirited Addams family were the Beinekes. Kelsey Stewart as Alice, Liam Baker as her husband Mal and Alex Bertadillo as Lucas, the future inductee to the Addams family, were horrifyingly sublime.

What a Halloween gift to us all. Just like that bowl of Halloween candy, we will keep going back for another helping. The Addams Family is a feast for the eyes, ears, heart and spirit. Let’s make it a Hood River Halloween tradition.



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