Our ancient ancestors tamed scary things using myth and ritual. Hallowe’en, with witches, ghosts, and the undead, is the festival of fear: of the unknown, of the different, as the long dark nights begin. Coming before the festival of light, which anticipates the promise of the return of life – Christmas. Both have moved far from their roots…
Could Hallowe’en have become again a necessary festival, to let off the head of steam created by not believing in an ‘Other’? Or (since the enormous popularity of this autumn festival grew as my kids were in junior school) was its establishment helping to give teachers a way to hold back the autumn term’s anticipation of Christmas? Stories and craft activities around Hallowe’en abound, witches are creepily popular, orange paint is fun to use and masks can be made and worn…
And back then, some parents definitely and strongly disapproved. Though I have this feeling that the religious groups don’t really need to fear that evil will be let lose in a big way by Hallowe’en… but, stop there, I believe it can be.
So, is it ‘really evil?’
– Hallowe’en is a marketing opportunity. Like Christmas, it functions around stories, and even more around dressing up, games and decorations, with costumes for sale weeks before.
– And Hallowe’en costumes aren’t necessarily all ghouls and ghosts, there’s been a move towards exploiting prejudice, or rather, stigma. Not only death, but disfigurement, deformity, mental illness, criminality, and other ‘nasties’ are being marketed. That, I think, is very scary, as well as being retrogressively evil. Stigma’s as old as society: in our scientific, techno-driven, politically correct age, there’s officially no magic and no witches (at least in black raggedly garments and tall hats). But when ‘monsters’ can be explained away by faulty of DNA, and we know perfectly well that there are no ‘undead’, it seems some of us need them. So Hallowe’en industry says it’s okay to mock, and to stigmatise, and encourage fear.
But it’s not just about celebrating creepy things… How to see in the Dark
– One explanation of the origins of Hallowe’en is the ‘Eve’ of All Hallows, the day before the church celebrated the lives of all the ordinary people we have loved and lost. It can become a celebration of love, not fear. One young mum I know is baking love heart cookies for her children to take around their neighbours as gifts on Hallowe’en. For her family, these are ‘to illustrate God’s love’: but even if you don’t believe in God, a heart cookie to remember the people you loved, and who loved you, is a heartwarming idea.
– The festival falls at the time when darkness really sets in. To live through the darkness, we all need light: we can symbolically turn away from the coming cold and dreary weather, and celebrate thankfully that we have both light and heat in our homes, and in our world.
– We could also remember that without sunshine, we lack Vitamin D, and buy supplements/choose foods to help us through the long dark days. And anything else, like books, DVDs and getting together with friends that makes us laugh or feel joyful – and drives away depression.
And what about all things orange?
– Orange not only about sitting at the fireside. The American festival of Thanksgiving (the last Thursday in November) is a bit too late for a Harvest Festival, some areas are already expecting or experiencing snow: so instead they chose All Hallows Eve, the end of October, to give thanks for the harvest. Huge bright orange pumpkins make wonderful decorations…some can be lanterns, with funny faces, a candle illuminating the inside. candle. In North America, some of these squash grow so huge that small children can actually get inside…
I hope your Hallowe’en will be a fun, thankful, and joyful welcoming of the change of the seasons, while the natural world rests ready for the spring, and looking forward to the cosy things we can do indoors (especially reading good stories!)