As everyone knows, the season of Halloween is upon us. The shops are full of scary (but not really believable) costumes, and if you listen at night you will hear the steady rhythms of firecrackers going off somewhere in your neighbourhood. This afternoon I was talking briefly with a group of elderly ladies, and one of them confided that she finds the period from mid-October to early November wholly scary – and she mean that literally, she is scared every evening. Others in the group nodded assent. It is a time when less secure people in the community can become victims, even if the offenders don’t really mean any harm.
And Halloween popped up for me in another guise today, in this completely weird but true news story. Apparently a man who had shot himself and whose body was lying on a patio somewhere in California was left lying there for days because those who saw him thought he was a Halloween display. I guess this tells us a certain amount about modern society, and the increasingly ghoulish nature of this particular festival.
Halloween (or Hallowe’en, if you want to be pedantic – a contraction of All Hallows’ Even) has both pagan and Christian roots. The pagan roots are in fact Irish, and can be traced back to the festival of Samhain, which marked the end of the summer, and during which the spirits of the dead were said to mix with the living. With the rise of Christianity, this was merged with All Saints Day on November 1st, with the prior evening known as All Hallows’ Even. But the Celtic hints of something spooky survived the Christian annexation of the festival, and this in turn was carried to America with the 19th century Irish emigrants; and so Halloween was given its popular modern status in the United States.
When I was a boy, Halloween was just good fun, with fancy dress (which did not need to be spooky at all) and a bonfire; whereas today it has, at least for some, all taken on a somewhat menacing tone. Gangs of teenagers throwing firecrackers at more vulnerable people is perhaps now one of its most typical manifestations. I think maybe it is time that society asserted itself and stopped the more unpleasant aspects of this time of year.
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