There is what appears to be a large rat and a disembodied hand on our neighbour’s porch, and a disarticulated (how I love that word!) skeleton on ours.  I am writing this in full bat regalia.  Yes!  It’s Halloween.

Whether you’ve got a soft spot for ghouls or not, Halloween has a whole bunch of elements in it that are all about switching-on.  I would have thought that Halloween is such uncontested fun that its merit would be self-evident, but news that some Ontario schools banned costumes from their premises today suggest that the day needs a little defending.  So here I am, riding in on my headless horse with just a few thoughts.

First, while we don’t think of Halloween as the most “traditional” of holidays, it comes with its own rituals.  Celebrating them is meaningful – especially if we pause for even just a moment to think about what Halloween means to us, personally, as families or even culturally.  For a night, we dare to mock death – and right at the outset of winter too.  And we give a nod of recognition, whether we believe it or not, to the forces out there in the world beyond our ken…which are sometimes close.

Second, being scared – especially when we know deep down that everything is OK – is fun. There is a reason that we gobble up Stephen King novels and go to horror movies and ride roller coasters.  There are probably all sorts of psychological reasons why this is true (and the infamous Capilano Suspension Bridge study explains one), but I think a lot of it comes down to the fact that being scared makes us feel alive.

Third, Halloween subverts the normal social order of things:  whether it’s appearing to venerate the dark side, children getting to gorge on sweets, good people doing mischief, people dressing as animals or spirits or monsters or whatever, for this one night we say “to hell with the rules!”  Every culture needs these outlets:  they can unleash creativity, help to blow off steam and even remind us why the normal rules might not always be a bad idea in the first place.

Fourth, holidays like Halloween remind us that there’s a different, more ancient calendar that runs deep beneath our efficient, organized and Blackberry-ified lives.  This calendar created space for different kinds of thinking and practices in a way we don’t seem to now.  For example,  Halloween in part evolved from the pagan Samhain, the Gaelic festival that my ancestors no doubt celebrated with bonfires and God knows what shenanigans on the Scottish Highlands.  According to Wikipedia, one of the features of Samhain was that villagers would light a central bonfire, then extinguish all other fires.  Each family would then relight its hearth from this one central flame, bonding them together at the outset of the dark, cold winter.  Where now do we so solemnly mark our common needs and our interdependence?

So make a little room for Halloween, notwithstanding its commercialization and the anti-fun brigade that wants to ban costumes.  Light a fire.  Get ready for the dark.  It’s coming – but we’ll be ready, and we’ll be together.

Before Darkness Falls...

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