31 October 2013
I don’t imagine that Pope Francis is a killjoy. On the contrary, I bet he enjoys a good party like the rest of us. However, I also suspect he feels that the way Hallowe’en is observed today rather misses the point.
The word actually means the evening before the great Feast of the hallowed ones: hallowed meaning holy; that is the Saints, martyrs and Christian believers. The Holy Father calls for a Night of Life, and asks us to light a candle to put in the window as a flickering reminder that October 31st is a joyful Christian celebration.
All Hallows Eve marks the victory of light over darkness, Jesus being the Light the Saints strove to follow. This won’t go down well with the multitude of youngsters preparing to dress up and harry their neighbours.
Personally I find myself way out of step with today’s mode of observing the day.
Bob Dylan reminds people like me to:
Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Get out of the new one
If you can’t lend a hand
For your times they are a-changin’
But we can still protest, even if we don’t altogether understand; and Bob’s keen on protest, is he not?
As a girl we made turnip lanterns for Halloween. Pumpkins were unheard of, except in the context of Cinderella.
Turnips, or perhaps you may know them as swedes, or wurzels, are much smaller than pumpkins and smell dreadful when cut open. As lantern potential they require patience and skill, qualities in short supply to your average 8 year-old.
Once carved, with the stump of a candle balanced precariously in the base, and a bit of string crafted to make a handle, your lantern is ready to light. But somehow our candle flames were too close to the string, so hanging them up was useless, the string caught light in a trice.
So we would set them down somewhere, on a wall perhaps, and leave them to be admired. They had no shelf-life whatsoever; next day the skin had shrivelled and they smelled horrible — lanterns fit only to be tossed on the bonfire for Guy Fawkes night a few days later.
In those days there was no dressing up as witches, werewolves, skeletons or ghouls. In our house at least, we merely made and lit our lanterns. Sounds jolly boring, doesn’t it? The fun was in the lantern-making, the number of which was only restricted by how many candle-ends you could scrounge.
As Bob Dylan has it, the times have indeed a-changed.
This year the little daughter of a friend asked her Mum to dress her up as a zombie with a knife stuck through her small body. While her mother tackled this awkward costume, I held back a torrent of disapproval and instead indulged in witty sarcasm, always a mistake.
What I couldn’t understand then, and still cannot today, is why my chum wasn’t shocked. Nothing to me could be more nightmarish than a 7 year-old knife-stricken zombie, drenched in blood. When asked why this didn’t shock her, she laughed:
“Oh, zombies are very “in” these days, really cool. It’s just a bit of fun.”
You’ll be glad to know I refrained from giving a short lecture on the real meaning of the word Hallowe’en, and feebly left the scene of ghostly shrieks of mock horror. This family was, after all, none of my business.
But later, a quick ring-round to my own little clutches of grandchildren, and blow me – they were all busy making their zombie costumes! Grandma, ever over-anxious for their souls, couldn’t resist weighing-in with a mention of the Night of Life. They listened politely.
“How about putting all the lighted pumpkins (or turnips) in a row in the window?” I suggested, with a nod to the Holy Father.
“Good idea” piped up a zombie, “when we’ve paraded our costumes and got back from tricks or treating.”
A classic compromise.