Friday, 31 October 2008

Halloween & Samhain

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.

Sharon J


Image Credit: Darin


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wombat064 said...

Halloween for the younger generations is a night to get dressed up and get lots of sugar fixes from whomever answers the doors. Egg a few houses etc.

I celebrate Samhain but being in the southern hemisphere I'm 6 month out of whack with you guys in the north half.

We are currently celebrating Beltane.

Anyhow, whatever one is celebrating, do it safely and responsibly and enjoy.

Do as ye will an harm none.
So mote it be.

Chris said...

Hi Sharon! I won't be taking part in any of it and thankfully neither will anybody I know! I know it can be inocent fun to some but things get out of hand and the dangrs of allowing children to knock on a strangers door are far from fun nowadays! My parents neighbours used to ask if their little boy could pop around to show them his costume etc which they allowed even though they do not believe in it. My neice and nephew will go to something at their Church or have some friends around and play at home **regardless** of what others think is right! Peer pressure and media pressure to hype things up causes a lot of the problem and the Police and PCSO's will be too busy sorting out the other bits that go with this hype tonight and through until after the last of the fireworks next week have been set off! We all know the fun they can be and the dangers too!

Lets hope people can find a way of enjoying themselves and not allowing thier ideas of "fun" to impact in a negative way on others! I don't answer the door and won't hesitate to report any trouble here! We have not had any in the 15 years I have been here - but having said that people and places change - not always for the better!


Lil Ms. Independent said...

Halloween/Samhain is very special for me, cause that's the day I got engaged on. Unfortunately my husband is away this time, so I plan on having a quiet evening, lighting some candles, clearing out the old things in the house, and remembering those who've passed on.

Kirsty said...

hope that your Halloween went well around where you live.

I can't really believe how it's changed since I was younger (and it's not that long ago, I'm only 29). Every year it seems the supermarkets come up with so much more junk to throw at people. I'm glad to say we haven't bought anything this year. The children have had costumes made from older costumes we had or old clothes. We carved our pumpkin and made soup from it yesterday and will compost the remains.

I don't really like the whole idea of kids going door to door. However we live on a nice small street and they all go along with it well.

To be honest, I'm glad it's over with for another year though!

daharja said...

Thanks for a great post - I absolutely resonated with you.

I've been posting a few times on my Daharja blog about how I find the whole Hallowe'en thing a bit noxious. Even more so because I'm in the southern hemisphere and I celebrate Beltane.

You're not alone. There's a strong backlash by people of all faiths, as well as those who just find the environmental aspects of all that plastic nauseating.

Have a wonderful, serene, and meditative Samhain.

And here, in New Zealand, I have welcomed in the first touch of summer at Beltane and am thankful for the warmth of the sun on my skin in the morning.


Daharja XXX

Sharon J said...

@ Wombat. If only people would think about whether they're harming anybody then I wouldn't have a problem with Halloween or any other type of celebration. Alas...

@ Chris. I'm not quite as against it all as you clearly are - the majority of people are good people who just want a bit of fun but the few spoil it for the masses. My main problem lies mainly with the plastic trash! We had absolutely no trouble here whatsoever and as far as I know, neither did the special needs people.

@ lil ms independent. It sounds as if you'll have had a nice evening even though your fiance wasn't there.

@ Kirsty. All we did when I was young was tell ghost stories. It was enough, though.

@ Daharja. I'd rather have been celebrating Beltane in New Zealand than Halloween/Samhain in the cold.

Cathie said...

You've just succeeded in making me really pleased we're moving further away from shops selling this kind of tat (all of them).

Honestly felt like I couldn't even pop into the local co-op to buy milk with the twins lately for fear of having to explain why I wouldn't be buying hideous plastic Halloween themed crap.

Thanks for this post.

Sharon J said...

Hi Cathie. I must be really difficult when you have kids what with the temptations everywhere and the fact that most of their friends probably have all this plastic junk. Luckily for me, things weren't quite as bad when mine were little.