I was going to write a post for this year’s Halloween season ranting about what I call the neo-pagans and their silliness. But I was half way through when I realized my heart wasn’t really into it anymore. They aren’t doing any serious harm to anyone, and some of them even have their hearts in the right place, so why pick on them.
Instead I thought I’d talk about how my wife and I have taken to celebrating Halloween and our reasons for what we do. Than everyone can make fun of us.
Neither of us adheres to any strict code of conduct as advocated by any one culture, although I tend towards walking a red road. (The term is take from the expression walking the good red road in reference to the colour assigned by the Sioux peoples to represent one of the four cardinal directions: the south. To walk the road from the south is to walk in faith. Natives use it to describe non-natives who following the practices of any of the native cultures)
There is a long tradition of celebrating the end of one year and the beginning of the next in the fall months. The Jewish new year Rosh Hashanah falls within our calendar months of September and October, and most agricultural based cultures would mark the end of the year by the final harvest.
Quite a number of older cultures have always viewed the three day period of October 31st to November 2nd as not only the end of the year, but a time to remember ones dead. The Celtic celebration of Samhain, the Iroquois Feast for the Dead, and even the Catholic Day Of The Dead celebrations in North America came from ancient Aztec celebrations worshiping their ancestors.
Ten years ago my wife’s best friend decided to let go of her life. She had been dieing the long slow death of Multiple Sclerosis and had wasted away to the point where she could no longer feed herself. When she had still been able to talk she had insisted that she did not want a feeding tube, and had asked my wife to insure this was carried out. She died on Halloween, which had also been her birthday.
Halloween had been one of wife’s favourite holidays, with all the fun of dressing up and playing, but with the death of her friend on that day it was harder to find reasons to be silly. What she decided to do was to re-invent the holiday so that it became something special to her, so that she could reclaim it from the unhappy memories she associated with it.
It seems to be a common problem for people; holidays evoking bad memories or triggering off emotional responses. For some awful reason Kingston and the surrounding areas seems to have been the home to a circle of ritual abusers. One person who we had been close to for a time had been so badly damaged emotionally that she had developed forty-one personalities.
Halloween was a particularly difficult time for her as so much of the abuse took place under the guise of dark worship. It and Christmas were the times her others (as she called them) were most apt to damage her through self-inflicted wounds etc. The idea of reinventing Halloween so as to reclaim it for herself as a time of fun and celebration especially appealed to her.
So what we do each year is celebrate the life of my wife’s friend who passed away ten years ago. I’ll bake a lemon meringue pie, because it was her favourite, and we invite any of our friends over who want to remember someone who was important to them, or who just want to eat lemon pie.
As the temperature’s been dropping at nights, everything in my garden is withering. It’s time to start putting the beds to sleep for the winter. The raccoons in the neighbourhood are looking so big that they are waddling as they walk, making me wonder how they’re going to get into their nests up in the tree out back.
The couple of Red Tail hawks who seem to winter in the city have shown up and are delighting in terrifying pigeons across town by flying over them; causing them to rise en masse to spiral against the grey pre winter sky. Most of the Canada Geese are long gone and the squirrels are in overdrive with their gathering of foodstuffs to cram their nests for the upcoming lean times.
Is it any wonder that so many people’s consider this the end of a year or equate it with death? What better time is there then now to become introspective when all is becoming dormant around you? The cycle of life in the natural world is on pause for the next few months.
Like the farmers of old took stock of their inventory of feed and produce that was to see them through the winter months, we take stock of the things that we have to be grateful for from the past year. They are the stores that will get us through any austere times we may face in the immediate future.
There is nothing glamorous or flamboyant about how we mark this time. No elaborate rituals that have no relevancy to our lives. We aren’t farmers so a celebration of the harvest has no meaning to us. We have created something that is reflective of the way we are trying to live our life in the here and now.
We’ve been doing this for the past six years now, and it works for us. To me this is how I can best honour the older ways that I’m trying to emulate, while still remembering my personal reality of being a city dweller. I’m a child of the twentieth century and denying that by acting out harvest rituals from thousands of years ago seems foolish and dishonest.
Have a wonderful Halloween everybody, no matter how you choose to observe it.