Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Halloween Descends Upon America
An Irish Blessing for Halloween
At all Hallow’s Tide, may God keep you safe
From goblin and pooka and black-hearted stranger,
From harm of the water and hurt of the fire,
From thorns of the bramble, from all other danger,
From Will o’ the Wisp haunting the mire;
From stumbles and tumbles and tricksters to vex you,
May God in His Mercy, this week protect you.
By Maureen McCabe
As the nights become chilly, the leaves turn crunchy. The autumn equinox has passed us by, with or without a bonfire. We feel a shiver in our bones. It is only natural to think about life and death at this sacred time when all the flowers have turned into shriveled compost and the fruit is being collected. What we harvest this year will be what we rely upon this coming winter. That is a terrifying knowledge. No matter what your line of work, life changes with the falling temperatures.
Is your car ready for winter? Do you have a snow shovel? Do you have a scraper for your windshield? Is your heater working properly? Do you need to weatherize your apartment? Do all your children have mittens and coats and boots? And to top it all off, have you planned out the appropriate family-friendly activities such as ice skating and sledding into your already overbooked schedule?
If you think your life is stressful now, imagine what your life might have looked like before electricity. You would be feeling a genuine fear right now, that you or some member of your family might not see spring next year. The shorter days of less sunlight didn’t just mean emotional depression, back not so long ago. You might actually die of hunger or cold as a working person living in America. The genuine human fear of the fall season dates back thousands of years and is validated in the Halloween tradition, a largely Pagan/Catholic festival that is celebrated in many countries.
The ancient Irish tradition of carving a jack o’ lantern was intended to ward off evil spirits and ghosts as they traveled to the next world on All Saints’ Day, November 1. The mask face and costumes were supposed to trick soul-grabbers into bypassing those whom we love, who would otherwise die this winter.
Many different countries and cultures have traditions of making lanterns and encouraging children to parade through the streets begging for food or candy at the time of year when the days become shorter. Even the squirrels are collecting nuts at this time. Humans are made to fear and prepare for the cold.
While irrational fear is uncalled for, the autumn season can call us all as a nation to rational fear, even if we don’t celebrate Halloween. Thanksgiving, the day of feasting, comes about three weeks after Halloween. After that will come Christmas, the day of gift-giving. All of these occasions are great days for charity, for helping out those who are cold or lonely.
But don’t forget! Eid ul-Adha is supposed to fall on October 26 this year. This is the time when we give meat to the poor. Much more useful than a pumpkin, a freezer full of meat would indeed help guarantee survival to any family worried about the coming winter. Perhaps there could be a way to create an interfaith activity combining the concerns of Eid ul-Adha and Halloween? For those interested in gore, a visit to the local slaughterhouse might be more than appropriate!
Islam could play a role in easing American fears of the supernatural. To a Muslim, our death should be the best day of our lives, because this is the day when we will meet Allah. We spend our lives preparing for that day. We remember death often, not for drama, but for perspective.
I asked the cashiers at Ashmont Market in Boston for their opinion on the meaning of Halloween in their lives. Two young men, probably in their twenties, informed me that, as Irish Catholics growing up in Boston, Halloween was about two things only. Candy – and egging people’s houses. However, they had no idea where the tradition comes from, of egging people’s houses. I laughed and said in Detroit, Halloween was all about setting things on fire! They mentioned All Saint’s Day as being the official Catholic holiday, but they had never visited a cemetery nor did anything other than get the day off school.
November 2 is a huge holiday called “Day of the Dead” in Mexico, while October 30 is called “Devils Night” in the American Midwest, and “Mischief Night” in England. So basically, Haloween is a four day international holiday celebrating and mocking the fear of death. Halloween has replaced Christmas as the ultimate secular holiday that brings neighbors together, that causes people to knock on each others’ doors. The love of candy has surpassed the love of Christ, but really it’s the same concept of connecting with people on the ancient level of survival: sharing food. Americans hang “Indian Corn” on their doors during the autumn season. Marketed as purely decorative, this tradition points to the fact that ancient Americans used to worship corn as life itself.
While we are alive, we prove our holiness or holy aspirations by loving our neighbor, while trying to balance others’ needs with our own legitimate requirements. We are possessed with the power to notice, or not to notice, the needs and feelings of those people around us. Now and then, we may have to knock on a door to inquire whether or not our neighbor is doing fine. Because sometimes, our neighbor might not be doing fine.