My pal Scott is five and loves Hallowe’en. He insists that his birthday too is Hallowe’en-themed and his parents happily comply.
What is it about Hallowe’en that kids love? Is it the immersion in the gruesome which works as a healthy end-of-summer catharsis for them? In The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche suggests that classical Greek dramatists looked bravely into the abyss of human darkness and affirmed the meaning of their own existence. So is Hallowe’en Oedipus Rex for kids?
Based on the ancient pagan festival of Samhain, it ends the harvest season and heralds the start of the dark. Like all enduring seasonal events, it seems to have psychological resonance with our ancestral selves. Kids scare away malicious spirits by dressing up to be scarier than they are; a good life lesson if ever I heard one!
Every year there are letters in the papers about Hallowe,en from religious parents, and schools sometimes have to tip-toe around their sensibilities. Scott’s nearest church runs an alternative “Twinkly Star party” and insists, “no Hallowe’en costumes please”. No doubt these are the same parents who are shocked and angered when secularists challenge the statutory imposition of Christianity in schools in the form of religious observance. They say that only they know the “true meaning” of seasonal events like Easter and Christmas, both also founded on older festivals.
Perhaps pagan parents know the true meaning of Hallowe’en. Pagan customs certainly have popular appeal: the fir trees, mistletoe and bunnies. Healthy modern festivals welcome all traditions and interpretations. The Christian Christmas story of new birth, rags and riches is nice and now also plays a part in the rich eclectic tapestry of Yule iconography.
I wonder if Christians take Hallowe’en too seriously. Maybe they have to believe that “evil” spirits are real as surely as they believe in the “good” ones. Can their faith not withstand a few pumpkins and kids dressed up as skeletons? Ironically they sometimes send their own kids to schools where crucifixion images are everywhere. One man’s religion is another man’s blood and gore.
I know which Scott would prefer.
Neil Barber is press and communications officer for the Edinburgh Secular Society