Thursday, November 1, 2012

On picking and choosing your traditions

We had a pretty uneventful Hallowe'en Chez Wolfboy. A couple of kids came by, we gave them some toffees and they went away neither us or them any the richer for the experience (unless you account for enrichment by toffee, I suppose).

Earlier in the evening we'd taken the childer to some church's alternative un-Hallowe'en do in order to satisfy my wife's curiosity. It was all right, well attended by a wide sampling of the local community and obviously entertaining for the children if their parents could afford the variety of rides and bouncy castles etc. on offer. The insistence on ignoring Hallowe'en even as it filled the streets around us was a bit strange though.

I don't hold with the idea that Hallowe'en is in some way an "evil" festival. It makes more sense to consider it a shadow of Easter - the acknowledgement of death and decay that mirrors the celebration of life and rebirth. I do think that there are some problems with the way it's observed here in New Zealand though.

Firstly (and most obviously) it's the wrong time of year. This is a problem it shares with all our church-derived holidays. They began life as pagan seasonal holidays before being co-opted by Christianity, but since the church ignores their seasonal nature in favour of having a unified calendar around the world we antipodeans end up celebrating all our seasonal festivals in anti-sync. Hallowe'en has a logical psychic resonance as an autumnal festival - acknowledging the decay that is necessary for renewal and honouring Death as a mirror to Easter's birth-feast in the spring.

Secondly, I think we've picked up the wrong tradition. In Scotland, where I spent my childhood between the ages of 6 and 13, there's a tradition known as guising. Guising is almost the same as trick-or-treating - you still dress up and go call on the neighbours - but with a crucial difference. In order to get a treat, a guiser needs to do a "turn" - sing a song, tell some jokes, recite a poem, whatever. This turns the festival into a real community event - you spend time in neighbours' homes, entertaining them (often badly, but still).

It's kind of a mystery to me why (given the mass settlement of NZ from the UK) we ended up with the somewhat thuggish and extortionist American version instead.

I want to bring it back - who's with me?

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