“Then suddenly a change, the passing of something – I knew not what – and then a stillness that could be felt. Nothing but this gaunt quiet. London about me gazes at me spectrally. The windows in the white houses were like the eye sockets of skulls. About me my imagination found a thousand noiseless enemies moving. Terror seized me, a horror of my temerity.”
The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells
This is not another pointed missal about whether Halloween is right or wrong. At this time of the year spirits are high and opinions are emphatic. Despite not growing up with it, I’m learning to welcome strong debate. Although articles and discussions about halloween cover the same ground year on year, they offer a wonderful forum for the parley of views. Perspectives about the nature of good and evil are laid bare and exposed to be picked at, chewed on and ruminated over.
I avoided halloween altogether this year by travelling and spending the weekend with friends in Germany – too focussed on friends and being a tourist than on the significance of the date or the day. It was a wonderful long weekend break from work and from London. We flew home into thick chilly fog, bringing with it an eerie, storybook quality which invariably drives me into my thoughts and imagination.
My musings: for my part, I’m always a little divided in my views on halloween. I don’t like the focus on evil creatures and the sentiment behind celebrating the dead whether it be from an orthodox religious (All Saints) or from a secular (monsters, ghouls and devils) point of view. But I do think halloween has hijacked and stolen away some of the most wonderful – for want of a better word – stuff of life.
What I love:
- What halloween could be.
- Dressing up and role-playing (I used to love a dress up birthday party as a child and remember going dressed as whatever TV, film or storybook hero had captured my imagination at the time. Once, as a teenager, I turned up at a party dressed as Madonna only to find a handful of Madonnas, Michael Jacksons, Cindy Laupers and Tina Turners had already arrived – #childofthe80’s. The last time I dressed up was New Year 2014 when 6 of us friends spent a few days in the Yorkshire Moors and played a murder mystery game).
- Autumn leaves and a colourful horizon of burnt oranges and yellow.
- Families planning and creating costumes and decorations together
- Pumpkins, pumpkin pie and spicy pumpkin soup (do you know that in England you cannot get pumpkin for love or money until October and then they disappear off the grocery shelves again?).
- Hot apple cider (equally, I love hot mulled wine at Christmas time)
- The potential for community and meeting those neighbours that you ordinarily may never meet and some that might never receive visitors.
- Families walking around the neighbourhood together, spending quality time as a complete unit unimpeded by work, school or real life.
- Walking around on a crisp moonlit night (I love walking at night and am grateful that I live in a city where I can still do this without fear of attack)
- Imagination and wonder
- Stories and make-believe
What I hate:
- Malevolent threats and evil, nasty ‘tricks’.
- Drunken parties that get out of hand.
- Too much focus on sweets (and sugar, which Hubby calls ‘white death’)
- The focus on ugly evil faces, blood and gore (although I acknowledge the creativity)
- The rise in violence and suicide on one crazy date of the year.
- Aggression towards those who don’t want to partake, such as eggs and other mushy messy items being thrown at their windows.
- Faceless, masked teenagers in puffed up, over-courageous crowd-induced hooligan mode getting up to all sorts of nonsense.
- Most of all I hate that thing in me that is frankly wowed by the grotesque and awesome sights, forgetting that these are actually a representation of real evil and that real evil certainly does exist, however benign the costumes and the innocence of their inhabitants.
Halloween as we know it today is born out of a combination of the Celtic fear of departed friends and enemies rising in ghostly form for one night (Samhain pagan festival); St Patrick, displaying kindness and concern, delivering cakes to superstitious Celtic neighbours who were cowering indoors; and All Saints Day where the church remembers the saints who have gone before us.
Where does that leave those who have strong beliefs, and find ourselves abstaining from the festivities? Should they throw the baby out with the bathwater? How can the 31st of October be redeemed? How does one participate in community and the world without compromising strongly held values? My questions are not solely about the 31st October. My questions are about the growing separation between the church and the non-believing or different-believing world. If people with divergent views separate themselves completely, how can they have those ever-important debates about life and death and the meaning of it all? If distinctions between us are too scary and abhorrent, where is the potential to get to know and understand one another or to walk in one another’s shoes…
A bowl of delicious, hot and spicy pumpkin soup and home made sourdough bread (made by Hubby) awaits he or she who can give me some satisfactory answers to my ever-increasing questions 🙂
The photographs were taken by me during my thoroughly relaxing autumn-themed weekend in Mainz and Frankfurt, Germany.