Saturday, November 01, 2014

Hallowe'en Thoughts

I'm very ambivalent about Hallowe'en as it's practised these days. It's an ancient festival dating back to the end of harvest/beginning of winter festival of Samhain in the Northern Hemisphere. It became a time to remember the dead who might be wandering around at this time of seasonal change as might witches, ghoulies, ghosties and other non human folk. Since this could end badly if you met them in the dark, it was a time to carry neep lanterns (hollowed out turnips with a light inside) when you were going to be out in the night. There were ritual fires, too, to ensure Spring would come back after winter (these eventually translated to bonfires) and pagan customs like ducking for apples which became regarded as harmless fun. All understandable in a culture where life was largely linked closely to the natural cycle of life.

When it became co-opted by the Christian church around 1,000 AD and the festival changed day and became All Saints and All Souls Days the ancient rituals changed but continued as fun customs in their new forms with Hallowe'en being one of many celebrations harking back to pagan times like May Day, Mummers and Morris Men. Hallowe'en was especially popular in Scotland, Ireland and, to a lesser extent, elsewhere in the UK and made its way to the US along with the new settlers. Here 'neep' lanterns became pumpkin jack o' lanterns.

In the US and Scotland and Ireland Hallowe'en gradually changed to become more of a secular children's celebration. In Scotland children would go 'guising', visiting houses to recite or sing to be rewarded with a treat of some kind while in the US dressing up and parties became popular. By the early part of the twentieth century it was more community based with parades and town-wide parties but 'trick or treating' led to a crackdown because of vandalism and other less appreciated demands. It took off again in the US somewhere between 1940 and 1950. Now much better supervised to prevent these problems, it has grown to the huge event it is today in the US which means that, due to the endless supply of US television and movies, we see it too and our children think it looks like fun and want to do the same.

So all good fun, a chance for children - and grown ups , for that  matter  - to dress up, vast quantities of sweets dispensed making the children and the confectionery industry very happy and parties for all ages. What's not to like?

Well, this is where my ambivalence comes in. There are a number of things that bother me. First the pumpkins. For the last three weeks our local Coles/Woolies have had huge piles of pumpkins for Hallowe'en carving. The thing is that in the Northern Hemisphere it's the end of harvest time and the pumpkins are ripe and ready to be picked. Here we're just planting the seeds. This means these pumpkins out of season and are imported which offends my green beliefs.

Then there's the fact that older teens feel that they have a right to demand treats or they 'trick'. Well, no. I don't have to give you anything and I can tell you it's not pleasant to find egg dripping down your windows and staining the walls.

Thirdly, I don't really think that it's a good idea for vast quantities of sweets to be handed out. Yes, I know that makes me a bit of a grump but we're continually being told we're in the midst of an obesity epidemic so is handing out sugar really a good idea?

Finally, although some of my American friends may object, it seems to me that the pumpkins and 'trick or treating' are something that is being imposed on us. We don't have the history behind them so it seems artificial. Frankly, if we do want to celebrate the day, I'd rather it was as fancy dress parties for all ages and not children roaming the streets demanding sweets.

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