The True Meaning of Halloween

I realized today why I do not love Halloween in the same way that I love some of the other holidays.  The problem is, for me, that it is so difficult to make Halloween less commercial and more familial and neighbourly.

With Christmas, for example, our family has stopped giving gifts except to children.  Instead, we put our money together and give it to charity, and we make homemade things for each other’s stockings, and we bake, and we cook, and we eat.  By replacing the commercial aspects of the holiday with family traditions, our time together is less stressful and more celebratory.  It becomes something we can truly anticipate as a family.

It is more difficult to avoid the commercial elements of Halloween, however, because they are driven by a question of safety.  It is no longer possible to pass out homemade candy apples or popcorn balls rather than mass produced candy, and this is largely because we no longer know our neighbours well enough to trust them not to hurt us.  The evening becomes reduced to strangers buying huge amounts of poor quality commercial candy to hand out to the children of other strangers who are handing the same candy out to your own children.  It is a candy exchange program, where nobody wins except the candy manufacturers and the dentists.

So, I have decided to make Halloween a little more neighbourly and a little more homemade.  I will, for the first time in decades, have candied apples for the children who know me, for the children who make up my neighbourhood.  I will also have mulled cider for their parents.  Of course, I will still need to have a bucket of candies for the kids who do not know me, but I will make our porch a reminder of what Halloween might actually be like if we took the time to know each other as a community.

Perhaps you can do so too.

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6 comments
  1. Well, it comes to my mind, however that the thing that bugs you is not the commercialism, but the two divergent natures of the two holidays- Chistmas or Yuletide is traditionally a familial activity- burning the log for twelve to sixteen days to honour the Gods, stay warm and prepare for life in the spring to come- very rustic, very close, cosey, meaningful, sturdy and full of faith- the gods will come through for us, and we thank them.

    Halloween or Samhain on the other hand is by nature a festival of gouging your neighbours- where the ‘festivities’ include mere survival and appeasement. You leave the tribute and offering on your doorstep, wear masks to avoid communication with your neighbours, and almost give census that you are here, boon us with your mercy by leaving out talismans and honourary tidbits to harmful gods or more likely the taxing aristocracy. It reminds me almost of Gang culture,but in this case, it’s one day a year the gangs get to mingle- but if you don’t give candie your house still gets egged or teepeed.

    It would seem to me that the issue is not with our day and age but the very nature of these holidays from their pagantry, even though I believe both have their beauty- Christmas seems to be the point where you isolate the family and gain strength from one another- hence your family gives charity from your pooled strength Luke, which actually makes the ‘isolation’ much more positive than just its positivity given to its members. But you know caroling and such things are things to be done by friends and family to exponentialise the strength of isolation if it is a strength in a family it should be offered then to families.

    Halloween on the other hand seems to be the time when people or families, neighbourhoods or communities, isolate their neighbours to make them weaker or keep them fretting. Which to me means that something other than candy apples and popcorn balls for those we know should be done. But in a day in age when the object of halloween is not to celebrate the spirits and the spirituality all around us but to get as much candy as possible, by taking the bus all around town to neighbourhoods and people we don’t know just because on that night they’re obligated to give us what we want is selfish and brutish and corrosive to community- and the exact opposite nature of christmas, which has been at the heart of Halloween from the beginning.

    Perhaps we should meet only in our communities again, have a well guarded bonfire and celebrate that we live in a mysterious world which occasionally defies out explanations. Perhaps its time we gathered again in this way to remind ourselves that their are forces which can only be kept at bay when neighbour loves neighbour and we lean on and give leaning to people, even through the times when those forces strike. And then we can give candy apples and popcorn balls not from donor to children but from community to community, without fear of harm.

  2. TC said:

    I felt mean not letting my son go trick or treating, but I stood my ground, and instead he carved a pumpkin lantern and took it around to show some friends. The candle glow was a very deep orange.
    We have only had halloween in Australia for a few years, and I object to the lollies and the lack of background or history. I did say to him that I would be happy to have a holiday where everyone went a bit wild in the street, where the underworld became the overworld for a night. His eyes lit up and he said ‘yes but that’s what we do on New Years Eve, after the parade’.
    He did decide to go to school on Halloween dressed as an accountant!? Scarey.

  3. Curtis,

    In a historical sense, perhaps you are right, but I am much more concerned with the practical question of how families and communities celebrate with one another. Whatever these celebrations have meant in the past, what are the ways that we can make them more neighbourly and convivial now? The campfire that you suggest, though not legal in my backyard, might be one such way.

    TC,

    I like your idea of taking something to show the neighbours, or of collecting food for the local foodbank, as some of the oldest children in my neighbourhood were doing. These kinds of things say more than, “Let’s trade sugar with perfect strangers.”

  4. Katerina said:

    I really like this idea Luke. I am so happy to live with you guys.

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