Is Halloween a purely secular holiday, a time for grinning jack-o-lanterns, scary costumes, and pillowcases full of candy? Is it really the Christian holy day of All Hallow’s Eve? Or does it have links to the pagan celebration of Samhain, or even more terrifying ties to black occult practices?
My belief is that meaning is not intrinsic to an event or a tool – it’s what you bring to it by intention, belief and action.
My memories of Halloween as a child were happy. Mom had one standard – she would not allow us to choose a costume that was scary or gruesome. “There’s enough horror and fear in the world,” she would insist. It forced us to be creative, and we still had just as much fun. We’d dress up in our Raggedy Ann or hobo or military costume and trek through the neighborhood, seeking out chocolate candy as a preference.
As older teens and adults, we didn’t usually celebrate Halloween. The few times we’d go to a party were great fun, choosing and outfitting ourselves with an alternative persona. The award for best and most creative costume, hands down, goes to my sister’s rendition of a Chia pet – terracotta sweats with lots of plastic greenery pinned on. My friend Kirsten, with her beagle prisoners at the annual doggie daycare party, has a blast dressing up!
As parents, Halloween became an annual major event again. I have boys so didn’t carry on my mom’s restriction on scary costumes – that’s what the boys were most interested in and tended to choose two times out of three. Zachary (the crazy clown), with his friends Mitchell and Alex, above, certainly are not shy. Trick or treating in Anchorage was NOT pleasant for the parents, it was bitter cold and usually snowy, and costumes needed to fit over snow gear, hat and gloves. Jack-o-lanterns would freeze and melt and slump in a few days as well, and the moose would munch them if they could reach them.
One of the most affecting celebrations of the day, though, was when our church introduced us to their All Hallow’s Eve celebration. November 1st is All Saints Day, and October 31, the evening before, is reserved for prayers and remembrances of the saints – and those who may not have been recognized as saints – but who have gone before. The celebration, with candle lighting and silent prayer, was very meaningful coming a couple years after the loss of my dad, who I will always miss.
Funny, dad used to be the one to take me trick-or-treating as a child, holding the flashlight and standing patiently in the street, while mom would come up with the great creative costumes. So my memories of Halloween come full circle.