Saturday, 29 October 2016

Hallowe'en and Culture

Hallowe'en came early to the Historical House, and it will last until November. There is a Hallowe'en Trail in the policies for children, and a "ghost tour" of the House at night. On Thursday I bought a big pumpkin (£2), and as night fell I carved this cheerful fellow:

Various British pundits snarl about the invasion of American-style Hallowe'en, and I sympathize. When Benedict Ambrose was a child, the older, native tradition of "guising" still lingered in his part of Scotland. In England, there were children's parties which included a number of folk traditions, often involving apples. Agatha Christie drowned one of her fictional victims in an apple-bobbing tub. It would be nice if local folk customs were encouraged in place, or beside, the imported American decorations, parties and conveyor-belt trick-or-treating.

However, British children seem to like American Hallowe'en, and after it was reported back to me that children had been delighted to see my nostalgic-for-Canada jack o'lantern, I decided I would keep carving them.

My resolve was a bit shaken by witnessing the Eve of All Saints in Poland, where the entire populace flocks to cemeteries to light candles, tidy the graves, pray and sing hymns. Convicted Catholic Poles (as opposed to go-along-to-get-along Poles) abhor American Hallowe'en, which they think is foreign at best and positively Satanic at worst. Not that they are Satanists, but it is true the the Wiccans adore Hallowe'en, which they call Samhain, and I believe there are various sexual shenanigans involving leaping over fires, etc. Or so I was told by a Wiccan long ago.

But I am a Canadian, and I do not have cultural or religious objections to little children dressing up and hearing ghost stories (or watching scary movies) and going out into the night to collect candy. I utterly loved it when I was young, and when I was too old for trick-or-treating, I still enjoyed going to school in costume. My mother let me get away with murder, incidentally.

Father Tim Ferguson,  guest-writing on Father Z's Blog, opines that he's happier to see children dressing up as "ghosts and ghouls" rather than everybody dressing up as "sexy pirate" or in any other sexy costume." I second that. I think it's atrocious how Catholic girls feel that they have to dress up as sexy-this-or-that to get any attention from boys at college parties. There's only so far you can go to out-sexy everyone else.  Eventually revelers will just wear body paint.

One solution would be that Catholic college students dress up as saints and organize their own saint-themed parties, as some parishes have for children. One of the most brilliant Hallowe'en costumes I ever saw was at college: John the Baptist with his head on a plate. The costume managed to be gruesome but not impious.

It should be understood that everyone at this Saint Party has to come as a saint. I went to a Newman Centre party as Saint Dorothy, and I felt frightfully precious. Possibly it would be a better idea not to go as your own patron saint, so that there is no confusion between you and the person you are not worthy to be confused with. I am not sure what the entertainment would be. Perhaps a film or dramatic reading about exorcisms would be both spiritually fruitful and absolutely terrifying.

Meanwhile, I shall supplement my enjoyment of my jack o'lantern, plus an evening of watching scary films with B.A., with going to the cemetery to visit friends' graves, and going to All Saints' Day and then All Souls' Day Mass. For truly, I cannot see what is wrong with traditional Hallowe'en fun as long as it does not replace actual religious observance.

Update: As a flame can never, ever be lit in the Historical House, the source of light in Jack is a battery operated "candle."

1 comment:

  1. I certainly enjoy Halloween and all it entails here in the US, but I have wondered how to keep the primacy of the feast of All Saints in a culture that is over-the-top for the Eve and ignorant of the feast (ie, houses on our daily walks have been decorated for OVER A MONTH).