Halloween has lost its way. It WAS all about light repelling darkness. Druids carved out frightening pumpkin faces and lit them in their windows to ward off evil spirits; they were seeking to reassert control of good over evil and to protect their homes from malign powers, on the night the dead were thought to visit the living.
Today, it’s children who are decked out in gory wigs and skulls, pretending to be those visiting ghouls. I totally appreciate that many Mums I know choose to tightly control how Halloween is marked in their homes. Wearing an old sheet in a bid to get some chocolates from the neighbours hardly means inculcating a sense of the manipulative power of evil in your children. However, the question I’m left with is this: why are we – on one level – somehow fascinated by evil and how does it affect us?
I understand how going into Poundland and seeing a mass of green witch wigs, orange spiders and plastic blood-stained fingers, gets many children excited. That’s the crux of the matter for me.
Hardly a night goes by without some documentary on television detailing horrific crimes. The Sunday Papers give break-downs of exactly how a hostage has been tortured in minute detail. It sells. Under the cover of current affairs, it’s permitted by society. I believe there’s a streak within us all – and it surfaces with different prompts – that gets excited by evil. This is complicated and I don’t profess to understand it, but it’s why the most docile of people can be gripped by a thriller about an axe murderer, or the grimmest of crime dramas.
I think it’s important to recognise this proclivity, but it’s vital not to indulge it. When we indulge it, we let go of a bit more humanity and we also tell our children that’s ok, or possibly worse still, that it’s a joke.
I remember reading a grisly book. It was well written, by a highly regarded novelist, but it detailed dreadful crimes. I couldn’t give it to the charity shop, so I put it in the bin. I didn’t want anyone else carrying the burden of having read what I’d read and feeling guilty for keeping going too long. Choosing to read another chapter was wrong and I lost a bit of humanity in the process.
Today, whatever you believe about the tangible presence of evil, we can all recognise darkness in our society. If only we were able to remodel Halloween and encourage our children to see this as a time of celebrating light overcoming darkness, in how we engage with poverty, homelessness and vulnerability in our communities.
We often feel overwhelmed by suffering we see around us. This Halloween our children will be putting up lanterns (still pumpkins) and remembering people who need light in the darkness of their lives. We’ll be dressing up as Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia and going to one of the many Light parties churches and other organisations put on around this time – children can still do the apple-bobbing and pumpkin carving, but with a positive message to take home. And, because we don’t just want to be merely spinning the story, we aim to try and shine some light, however small, in a practical way, buying some hats to be taken by a friend of ours helping refugees in Calais.
The days in the Church calendar of All Hallows and then All Souls (both following Halloween) are about remembering those who’ve died. Their lives may have shone a powerful light on our own. Maybe we can start using Halloween as a way to lighten the lives of others and bring hope rather than fear?
So how do you mark Halloween? Should I just take a chill pill and have fun? Or do you think there’s a sinister side we need to keep in check? And if we want to, how can we be light overcoming darkness? Please do join in the debate.