Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Rethinking Halloween

For a long time I have been ambivalent about Halloween. When I was a child, Halloween was a very minor date on the calendar. I remember bobbing for apples and maybe playing a couple of other games. I don't remember whether we ever made Jack o'Lanterns - I think maybe we did, but not every year? Whatever, Halloween was hugely overshadowed by Bonfire Night (Guy Fawkes) which was a huge deal. We made a Guy, collected wood for a giant bonfire, and went shopping for fireworks - we would be given a certain amount to spend, and in those days that meant selecting individual fireworks and weighing up their relative excitement value. Should it be one giant rocket, or three small ones? The excitement built for weeks.

Since I have had children of my own I have dithered over Halloween, which has become a bigger deal year on year. I don't have any objection to celebrating Halloween in principle. From my perspective as a Catholic All Hallows Eve is part of a package with All Saints Day on November 1 and All Souls Day on November 2. My problem is how to celebrate it. Every year since the girls were little the amount of Halloween paraphenalia on sale has multiplied, and trick or treating has got more popular. Some people love it, others hate it. When Angel and Star were younger we sometimes had a small scale Halloween party, but didn't trick or treat, partly because it felt rather alien and partly because we felt that the cons (disturbing people who may not want to be bothered by kids knocking on the door, feeling that it is something that has been imposed on us by the media) outweighed the pros (fun! sweets!). I was also wary of the whole spooky side of Halloween, which is more of a British thing - Halloween costumes are always ghosts, skeletons, witches and things of that type, and telling ghost stories is something else I remember being part of Halloween when I was young.

This year I decided I was warming to the whole thing. Catholic tradition holds that this is this is the time of year to especially remember and pray for the dead, and I presume that somehow the ultimate origin of the spooks and skeletons at Halloween ties in with that tradition. As for trick or treating, I noticed that people have started to leave lit pumpkins outside their doors as an indication that they are happy to be visited by trick or treaters, and that it has become much more of a family event, with lots of families and small groups of children out and about enjoying the atmosphere. We decided to let Star take Cherub, who just managed to let excitement win out over fear - she is Little Miss Timid, and I would have bet against her making it out of the door into a dark night full of people dressed in scary costumes. She set out with great trepidation, but returned with a haul of sweets and the satisfaction of having faced her fear and overcome it.

Cherub, incidentally, was probably the only child in town not wearing anything black or spooky. She was determined that she was going to do it her way. And her way was to dress up as a ballerina with bunny ears. Halloween Cherub style is pink and fluffy!

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