Friday, October 25, 2013

Halloween outside the US

 by Professor Bop on Flickr Some rights reserved
Image by Professor Bop
Halloween is around the corner. I’m sure everyone in the US is busy carving pumpkins, and decorating with spooky things.
From what I've seen pumpkin wise, you are all awesome at it.

Not here in the UK--although there is a lot more Halloween stuff around than ever before. I saw tons of pumpkins on sale today, yet not one shopper had one in their trolley. We simply don’t know what to do with them.
A few years ago I went to visit a friend a few days before Halloween. When asked what I wanted to do, and being given a few very cool Halloweeny options…
I opted for:
Going trick or treating with my friend’s kids.
When asked why in God’s name would I want to subject myself to "Torture", I simply said “It’s the real thing. I don’t know how it works, so I’ll get your kids to show me.”
And boy, did they ever show me!
I had an absolute blast, and I think the kids did too. Everyone overdosed on chocolate and my friend’s son, the “Spectre of Doom”, introduced me to some I’d never had. (Much to the surprise of his father, who asked me where I’d got this changeling from, because his son doesn’t share candy…)

Sadly, in the UK, the shops being filled with toys and sweets, decorations and pumpkins has nothing to do with people wanting to celebrate Halloween. It’s all about money. Supermarkets have cottoned on to the fact that there is a holiday which hasn’t been commercialized yet. At least not here.
If you show kids the toys and decorations, they’ll want them without knowing anything about Halloween other than what they’ve seen on TV. Parents are helpless to resist the barrage of bright orange goodies and get sucked into it without really knowing what it’s all about.
Then comes the actual Halloween.
Kids here have no clue how it works. They don’t know the “porch light” etiquette, and if you say trick instead of treat…they’re at a loss of what to do.
Worse…many don’t go house to house because they want sweets. (Pardon me, candy.) Hell no. I’ve had “kids” (seventeen year olds!) stand outside my door, at 11pm, dressed in regular clothes, holding out their hand and going “Trick or Treat”. Foolish me handed them some chocolates, despite the non-effort and surly sneers. That got me even more sneers and a "I don't want chocolate, gimme a quid." (A "Quid" being £1, which equates to around $1.55)
If you think I’m kidding--I’m not.
The small kids don't tend to show up here, we're too far off the beaten track. The only ones who might knock are the neighbor's kids and for the past few years they had no idea Halloween even existed.
They do this year.
I'm prepared.

In all that, the real “All Hallows Eve” (as celebrated in the Church the day before All Saints), and the more ancient festival of Samhain, are forgotten.
Samhain (pronounced a bit like Sow-in) actually dates back to 10th century Ireland, and it is a festival marking the end of harvest and the beginning of winter. There is nothing sinister about Samhain. It simply marks a time when the cattle was brought in from the summer pastures, the harvest was finished and slaughter started for the winter months. Bonfires were lit to cleanse or protect from spirits wishing to do harm, so they couldn’t get into the winter food preparations.
Samhain - Image by DragonOak
Image by DragonOak
I believe the “Night of the Dead” connotations came about much later, but Samhain has nothing to do with “The Evil Dead”, but rather with honoring the dead by setting an extra plate at the table and remembering those who have passed.
The Church later “appropriated” the date to celebrate “All Hallows Eve”, but it pre-dates the Christian holiday by many centuries.
Still, I think it is worth remembering where it all came from, and, having grown up in a family which had plenty of farmers among it, appreciate the harvest, and prepare for the long nights ahead, while remembering those who are no longer with us.

I’ll probably make my own little bonfire and reflect on the past year.
And in that spirit, I’d like to say “Blessed be”,  because I think everyone can use a little blessing in their life, no matter what they choose to believe.

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