Posted tagged ‘Hallowe’en’

The morning after the night before: Hallowe’en tales

November 1, 2010

Yesterday late afternoon – and in the darkness after the clocks had gone back – I came across a group of clearly middle class parents and their children building a bonfire in a Dublin public space. In order to assemble enough flammable material they had broken branches off nearby trees, had taken some construction timber from a builder’s yard and had added what looked like old cushions from a sofa. They were getting ready to light the fire on a piece of City Council parkland lawn, almost under a tree which, I thought, had a good chance of catching fire. I was walking my German Shepherd dog, which I confess tends to give me a bit of extra gravitas in such situations, as many people are a little nervous of these dogs, and he has a habit of baring his teeth if he thinks someone is not being nice to me (otherwise he is very friendly). So I walked up to this very respectable group and advised them that they were about to cause serious damage and destruction, and not a little risk to themselves and passers by. They were polite enough to me (as I said, the dog), but made it very clear that they had no intention of abandoning their plans – though they did delay them while waiting for me to move on.

I guess my public spiritedness didn’t stretch as far as it should, since eventually I did indeed walk on. I briefly contemplated calling the Gardai (police), but I guessed that on this day they wouldn’t do anything much in response. In short, I’m rather ashamed to say I washed my hands of the whole thing and went home. Today some time I shall go and inspect the scene to see what damage was done.

OK, you may think I’m an appalling busybody and spoilsport, and a coward to boot. But all this does annoy me. Every year, in Dublin alone, Hallowe’en bonfires and fireworks create costs for the City Council of around €1 million – and this at a time of economic crisis. That figure does not factor in the costs created elsewhere in the country, nor the extent of damage to private property, personal injuries, pollution, and so forth. Nor does the sum of money tell you about the intimidation caused to vulnerable (often elderly) people, or the animals that are displaced or frightened.

I also saw young children trick-or-treating with their parents, and yes, that’s perfectly nice. But overall Hallowe’en has become a cause of damage and minor terror, and while annually we tell ourselves what costs it is imposing on us we seem unable to do anything of any use about it. Every bonfire that was lit last night was breaking the law, and yet probably nobody will be prosecuted; and this is neatly setting the scene for next year. Isn’t it time for all this to stop?

Halloween tales

October 17, 2009

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.

Or am I just a spoilsport?

Hallowe’en hangover

November 3, 2008

As I was driving through parts of suburban North Dublin this morning, there were signs everywhere of the activities of last Friday night. On green spaces all over the housing estates, there were the leftovers of bonfires; and it was not just the destroyed grass that could be seen, but the remnants of supermarket trollies, destroyed wooden fences, even burnt out cars.

As it happen,s this year before October 31st the usual terrorising of local communities was less noticeable, with far fewer fireworks going off in a manner calculated to frighten people; but there were incidents, including one where I saw a group of youths throw fire crackers into a small gathering of elderly people; and on the night of Hallowe’en itself there was, as we hear, significant trouble all round Dublin, with random acts of violence (including attacks on the emergency services) and now a clean-up bill running into millions.

Maybe Hallowe’en brings out the worst in us. Although the name is a reference to the ‘Eve of All Hallows’ – i.e. the night before All Saints Day on November 1st – its real origins lie in the Celtic pagan festival of Samhain, when there was thought to be a convergence of the physical and spiritual world, with the spirits of the dead rising. Still, generations of people celebrated it harmlessly, and it is only more recently that it, and the period preceding it, have become troublesome and intimidating.

There are, it has to be said, complex reasons behind all this, and perhaps chief amongst them is our apparent inability to sustain a positive image of society and community, so that the kind of ant-social conduct for which the second half of October has become typical is avoided. The particularly disturbing nature of this year’s ‘celebrations’ should prompt us to look urgently at what has gone wrong, and how it can be fixed. We should not just accept this as inevitable. It isn’t.