Friday, 31 October 2008
I quite like celebrating things that I feel are worthwhile but one thing I shan’t be celebrating this year is Halloween. At least, not in way it’s celebrated these days. I’ll light some candles in honour of those ancestors who have moved over to the spirit world - those who I loved and knew and those that I didn’t but who are each responsible for my own existence. That will be the extent of it though.
I really don’t like what Halloween has become. Sure, it’s fun with spooky stories and such like, it’s not that part of it I have a problem with, it’s the commercialism that’s developed around it that I hate.
These past couples of weeks the shops have been spilling over with tacky, cheap polyester costumes that probably won’t even last the night, let alone be brought back into use again next year, along with a plethora of plastic pumpkins, spiders, skulls, skeletons and lord knows what else. Pumpkins will be carved but few will actually be eaten and far too many won’t even bother to compost the flesh that’s removed. The impact on the environment thanks to this one night and the way we’ve accepted that it should be celebrated because that’s what the shops want us to do, has far too great an impact on the environment for my liking. Whatever happened to making costumes out of old sheets, recycled clothes and the likes and dressing the house with old twigs made to look like witches broomsticks, etc?
And then there’s those who will actually be scared on Halloween. Here on our estate we have flats and houses that are specifically earmarked for people with special needs. Some of those living in these properties were very frightened last year by kids who were banging at their doors in the dark, making strange noises outside their windows and generally larking around. Some understood what was going on but others didn’t and even some of those who did were still worried because, as we all know, kids can sometimes go too far, especially when they’re preying on the weak and vulnerable. Halloween can have the same effect on many older people.
This year the housing association have arranged a ‘walk about’ around the estate with the kids. Hopefully this will ensure that those who are vulnerable won’t be visited and the whole trick or treating process will go smoothly. There will also be games and prizes, the main one being for best ‘home made‘ costume. Hopefully it’ll be a success and parents will put themselves out to make their own costumes instead of nipping down to Asda for a witches dress or skeleton outfit and the plastic rubbish will stay on the shelves because there won’t be a need to decorate the house. And of course, the special needs people won’t be bothered by it. Unfortunately it won’t lessen the impact in the greater scheme of things but as they say, every little helps.
But up in all this mayhem, I wonder how many actually know what Halloween really is? Well originally, in the Christian sense, it was All Hallows Eve - the night before All Hallows Day, the day that Christians honour the saints. But it was around long before that. Samhain is the night before the Pagan new year, so you could call it their new year’s eve. It was, and still is, considered to be the night when the veil between this life and the after life is at its thinnest. The old Celts believed that the spirits of the dead could possess their bodies so they turned out the lights in the hope that the spirits wouldn’t find them but also dressed up as ghouls just in case they were found but would hopefully be able to scare them away again. Nowadays it’s more a celebration of the lives that have gone before and to remember with blessing the year that’s passed.
The catholic church didn’t much like pagan traditions though, so in an attempt to stop all the ‘afterlife’ malarkey they decided to turn Samhain into All Hallows Eve instead. What emerged, however, was Halloween as we generally know it today - a blend of the two. We no longer believe that the dead will come back tonight, but still we hang on to the pagan traditions by telling ghost stories and dressing up in scary costumes. And then the fat cats got on the bandwagon and everything went tits up for the environment!
And yes, I’ll hold up my hand and admit I’ve also dressed up in tacky costumes and bought plastic pumpkins and other such rubbish. I did it when the kids were younger and I wasn’t giving a whole lot of thought to the environment, but then again we didn’t know then what we know today so although I wouldn’t proclaim my innocence entirely, I’d still say I wasn’t being less caring towards the environment than I am now because everything’s relative to your knowledge. I wouldn’t do it now though. No way.
Image Credit: Darin