To Halloween or Not to Halloween

If we lived in Britain or in the States, Halloween would probably be something that our kids would be taking part in by default. It has become a fun, accepted thing for all to participate in, not to mention all the money making propaganda around it. Apparently, Halloween spending in Britain has now even run into the hundreds of millions per annum. But what happens in South Africa?

For those of us living in South Africa, sending the kids out all dressed up walking around the neighbourhood is something parents might want to think about.  Firstly, we might worry about the safety of our children out on the streets, then we might wonder what the purpose of it all is. Halloween seems to be all about dressing up and eating sweets but actually the festival originated in celebrations of late autumn harvests and the remnants of ancient folk customs that pay homage to departed ancestors as well as to the souls of our loved ones who have died.  If you think about it, many cultures and customs around the world honour those that have passed. You may have heard of the Mexican day of the Dead or the Hindu Pitri Paksha, the Japanese Buddhist Bon festival, African Ancestral Worship traditions or the Roman Catholic All Saint’s Eve (more are listed here.)

According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica,

In ancient Britain and Ireland, the Celtic Festival of Samhain was observed on October 31, at the end of summer…. The souls of the dead were supposed to revisit their homes on this day and the autumnal festival acquired sinister significance, with ghosts, witches, goblins, black cats, fairies and demons of all kinds said to be roaming about. It was the time to placate the supernatural powers controlling the processes of nature. In addition, Halloween was thought to be the most favorable time for divinations concerning marriage, luck, health, and death. 

The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1.

This festival was more about celebrating the end of the harvest year, a time to gather resources for the winter months and bring animals back from the pastures. Samhain is also thought to have been a time of communing with the dead, according to folklorist John Santino. Santino, writing in “American Folklore: An Encyclopedia” (Garland, 1996), noted that 

“Halloween beliefs and customs were brought to North America with the earliest Irish immigrants, then by the great waves of Irish immigrants fleeing the famines of the first half of the nineteenth century. Known in the North American continent since colonial days, by the middle of the twentieth century Halloween had become largely a children’s holiday.”

So what does that mean for us South Africans? Do we take it seriously? Somehow it feels that commercialism has turned this day into a somewhat whimsical excuse for spending money and letting the kids (and adults ) dress up and overindulge in goodies.

My teens were invited on Friday evening to join a neighbourhood walk with a collection of kids of all ages, guided by a few zealous parents. I wasn’t too happy about all the sweets and having to arrange an outfit but figured I could manage the consumption of the sweets at least, they aren’t tots anymore I figured. So off we went to gather some cloaks and masks at the local shop. Needless to say, my son’s mask not only tore at the seems but the fabric eye covering came off within minutes. It’s nothing us moms have never dealt with before, so I grabbed an old pair of sunglasses to hide the eyes and quickly sewed up the back fabric covering of the mask inbetween dinner and showers. Fun was had that evening by kids of many different cultures and religions and the number of smiles made me realise how modern day goodness can come from an age-old gathering. And I don’t think there were any demons out there, except the ones we dressed up 🙂

PS, I found loads of hidden sweet papers scattered around their rooms this morning, so beware: teens don’t necessarily manage their sweets either!

What are your thoughts on Halloween?

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