So, you might recall my saying that I was not much of a Traditionalist? I would like to rephrase that slightly, just to give you a little more context for this particular post. I prefer to think of myself as someone who celebrates and participates in traditions that I genuinely understand. Someone, who takes pride in practicing with purpose, and not just for the sake of conforming.
Without wanting to sound like too much of a party-pooper, when it comes to Halloween, I have, in the past, been a conscientious objector who has chosen to self-exclude for the most part. There are a number of reasons why I have had an aversion to the celebration of this particular festivity… 1) I didn’t know much about the actual tradition itself, but with my limited understanding, I was not entirely agreeable with encouraging my girls to dress up as characters, that would likely appear in their worst nightmares, or to let them follow along with what I assumed were ancient Pagan rituals. 2) I can’t say I agreed much with sending my children out door knocking in an attempt to gather candy and sugary sweets. The idea of that actually made me ill in the stomach, when I considered how little, if any sugar my girls had actually consumed in their all-together 5 and a half years of life. And as far as knocking on strangers’ doors was concerned, well that went against every motherly instinct I had nurtured over the past 4 years. 3) The largely commercial aspect of festivities and traditions these days continue to make me rather uncomfortable. The idea that Halloween was really just another huge annual, moneymaking enterprise that fed larger corporations, sent spine-chilling screams through my body, and, to be honest, still makes me cringe.
So here we are, at the end of October… in Vancouver. And what an eye opener this month has been. I was immediately struck by the enthusiasm with which people here embrace this festivity. I have never seen so many creatively decorated displays of horror and hair-raising spooks. Almost every house on our street has become a horrifying graveyard, overflowing with tombstones and devilish looking pumpkins. Ghastly corpses, coffins and cobwebs are everywhere while spiders and skeletons of varying size, seem to be crawling their way through, what used to resemble, a well-kept and orderly residential street.
Given my stance on Halloween, it will come as no surprise to you, that I was a little thrown when we received the pre-school notification that all the children were to arrive in costume the Friday before Halloween. I had never had to think about going out to buy my child a frightening costume till now. Halloween is just not something we have ever really talked about with our girls. To be honest, I wouldn’t know what to say about it, and this showed a little too well, when my 4 year old suggested she wanted to go dressed as a Hot Dog… and there it was, in that precise moment, I realised that I needed to educate myself a little more on this seemingly frightful, dark and spooky tradition, if only for the sake of saving my child from embarrassment.
From what I’ve learned, Halloween derives from a Gaelic festival called Samhain. The original festivities marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the ‘dark half’ of the year. Traditionally, Samhain is celebrated from sunset on 31st October to sunset on 1st November, which is about halfway between the equinox and the winter solstice here in the north. The festival is thought to have Pagan origins and has been an important event since ancient times. Samhain was seen as a liminal, or inbetween time, when the boundary between this world and the ‘other world’ could be crossed easily. A time where spirits could more easily come into our world. The souls of the dead were thought to revisit their homes seeking hospitality, so feasts were had, at which the souls of dead kin were beckoned to attend, and a place was set at the table for them. As with current day ‘trick-or-treating’, Samhain involved people visiting door-to-door in costume or disguise, often reciting verses in exchange for food. The costumes may have been a way of imitating, and disguising oneself from the travelling spirits.
This newfound knowledge was certainly interesting and did help to raise my comfort level and understanding of the tradition, but it posed another big question… How would I make a 4 year old understand what the true meaning of Halloween or Samhain was? I think therein, lay my answer. I wouldn’t be able to make a 4 year old understand the truth behind it just yet; therefore, it would be silly of me to even try. The only thing I could do was to let her embrace a little of the fun and the madness. She was obviously ready to, so why wasn’t I? In this instance, I had to trust that her innocence would protect her and that she would still enjoy the moment without having to understand the truth behind what it was that she was celebrating. I knew that I would just have to be OK with that.
Becoming a parent has taught me that I can’t be as rigid about certain things as the childless me was, and that it is also important, within reason, to bend a little and to be flexible. If I am to allow my children some form of communal interaction, some identity in their own social circles, and if I am to prevent them from the shame of having a mother who doesn’t let them join in or do anything remotely fun or traditional, then I must exercise a life of moderation in all… no, most things. This, I hope, is a moral standpoint that will help them in all facets of their lives. So this year, despite the pre-Halloween decorating, the candy-sugar highs and the costume drama, I have decided to look at Halloween in a more positive light. Perhaps the dressing up is a chance for my children to exercise their creativity and the trick-or-treating is an opportunity for them to develop their cultural awareness, a chance for them to feel part of a national festivity. Trick-or-treating is also, potentially a great way for us to meet the neighbors and it does help to build a real sense of community. My children will have a great time doing something new, and I think I might actually enjoy the cuteness overload of all the kiddies in costumes.
It is now Halloween night and we are coming to the end of my first ‘real’ Halloween. This past week, we enjoyed a visit to the Pumpkin Patch to pick out our very own family of pumpkins, and our pre-schooler basked in the enjoyment of a hair-raising dress up day with her friends. We went trick-or-treating together, and I was pleasantly surprised at the welcoming, generous and unusually friendly wicked witches, gnarly goblins and ghoulish ghosts that we live amongst. Turns out, the usually frustrated and un-forgiving woman across the road was the most generous; even giving our little ‘wolf-witches’ a hug. But best of all, we enjoyed special family time while carving our pumpkins into a little family of creepy looking Jack-O-Lanterns, and you know what? I got to roast my own Pumpkin seeds to enjoy as a healthy snack, so this year, Halloween wasn’t all bad. It was actually kind of fun!