Friday, October 29, 2010


"So this is Samhain,
And what have you done?
Another year over,
And a new year just begun."
With appologies to John Lennon, we arrive at the start of another new year.... if you believe in Hallowe'en, that is.
I am amazed at how Hallowe'en has changed over the years. When we were kids, of course, Hallowe'en was a big deal. We would spend hours planning our costume, which we'd wear twice: once on the big night, but, even more importantly, we'd wear them to school on the day immediately before Hallowe'en or on the day itself. We'd get to parade around the school, visiting other classes and showing off the costumes and guessing who was inside the clown, or cowboy, or pirate, or witch mask. Often, the costumes were home-made: old bedsheets for ghosts, face paint for missing teeth or scars, parents' old coats or shirts for those dressed as hoboes.

Then, the big night would arrive. We'd get a quart peach basket and decorate it with cut-out ghosts or bats, and wander the neighbourhood.... alone, without parents or older kids to look out for us. When our basket was full, we'd dash home, empty the contents on the kitchen table... and then head out again to hit the houses we'd missed the first time. Candy kisses, apples, rice crispy squares, suckers and rockets... yum !

The house was decorated too.... with a single pumpkin. Zig-zag mouth, slanted eyes, triangle nose and a candle burning the scraped-out insides black. The front room lights were turned out, giving the pumpkin a strange and eerie glow.

In university, my roomates and I did more or less the same thing: except we'd be hammered when the little kids in the townhouse complex came around. No matter, we were harmless, and we always shelled out. We were sometimes in costume too. And the highlight was listening to a recording of H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds"... the Orson Welles version. It was strangely frightening for an old 1920's era radio play.

Today, we go all out for Hallowe'en. Houses seem to out-do each other in spectacular displays of graveyards, torture chambers, crime scenes .... all with the gory, blood-spattered, CSI inspired dismemberment that we have grown insensitive to. And the costumes.... such creativity in the attempt to be the sexiest woman on the block. Cleavage, bondage, French maids, naughty school girls, and playmates arrive at the door, instead of witches, fairy princesses, cowgirls, and tigers. Well, some of the old costumes are still around, but they'd be better suited for strip clubs instead of trick or treat. Not that I'm complaining !!

We've come a long way. But one thing never changes. Hallowe'en is a time of transition. For, when the displays are turned off, the costumes put away, and the candy eaten, we are ready to settle in for the long, dark, sleepy nights of winter. We slow down and turn inward, largely shunning the cold outside, and retreat to the safety and warmth of the home, curled in front of fireplaces, TV's, video games, and the internet.

The old ones believed that this time of year, Samhain, was a time when the distance between the living and spritual worlds was at its closest. It marked the completion of one year, as it crept towards the winter-death, only to see the days grow longer at the coldest time, bringing the promise of a new year and new life. It was a time of looking back on the year completed, on the harvest just gathered, and to look ahead to the gathering age of all of us, and to our ultimate fate. It was a time to remember our ancestors, and to remind ourselves that we will join them soon. And to not fear that prospect. It was a celebration of the connection between life and death. Laughter and joy could mingle with ghosts and talismans.

And so, to all wiccans and neo-druids, to all ghosts and goblins, to all of us going to parties and bars, and especially to all kids trick or treating, a very heartfelt wish for a Happy Hallowe'en and a Happy New Year.

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