As I sit here by the woodstove, eating my children’s Halloween candy and sorting through pictures of their costumes to send to the grandparents, I can’t help but think how much I love Halloween.
There has been a lot of discussion among parents over the past few weeks about Halloween traditions, and surprisingly, many parents expressed their dislike of the holiday, claiming that the focus on super heroes, princesses, and candy pretty much represents the worst of our consumer-based, corn syrup-soaked society. Of course other parents countered that they love the creativity that goes into making costumes and the joy their children get out of carving pumpkins, dressing up and trick-or-treating.
But the most interesting conversation I had about Halloween was with one of Katherine’s teachers. He noted the duality that exists in humans – the animalistic, gluttonous side and the kind, virtuous side – is mirrored in this holiday, with Halloween representing avarice and All Saints’ Day representing morality. This is the same duality we see in literature throughout history: the struggle between the wicked and pure characters that portrays every individual's inner struggle between good and bad, right and wrong.
In many countries, All Hallows’ Eve is nothing more than the night before the true holiday, All Saints’ Day. In Poland, and probably many European countries, families spend All Saints’ Day decorating graves with flowers and candles, and return at dusk to walk through the cemetery. When I lived in Poland I joined my friends in this tradition, and I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a more beautiful, peaceful sight. The entire cemetery glowed with thousands of candles as people walked the paths quietly and thoughtfully. Catching glimpses of the writing on the gravestones in the twinkling light, wondering about the woman who had lived to be 80, or the child who had lived to be 2 over a hundred years ago, helped put day-to-day life in perspective. The words that come to mind when I think of that experience are peace, warmth, and comfort. The celebration of All Saints' Day meets the virtuous inclination of humans.
In contrast, Halloween in the U.S., with the overload of candy, certainly gives in to the gluttonous side of human nature. We would probably do well to tone down Halloween (as I unwrap my fourth candy bar…) and balance it out with a reverent celebration of All Saints' Day.
But still, I love Halloween: the decorations, the costumes, the pumpkins, the candy... and even though I find the concept of duality fascinating, the part I love the most is the way we let go of our fear (which is no small feat in our fear-based society) and not only open our door to the whole community, but send our kids out to collect treats from complete strangers. It is a day of mutual understanding that everyone is welcome to join. I think that is pretty awesome.
Finally, a picture for the grandparents.