Monday, October 31, 2005

In the dark

I've been dreaming in the night
Shadows on the window
--Dave Matthews Band, "Halloween"
Since 1986, Daylight Savings Time has ended on the Sunday before Halloween, ensuring that the spookiest holiday brings with it an ominous early nightfall. But Congress in its eternal wisdom has decreed that beginning in 2007, Daylight Savings Time will last until the first Sunday in November. One of the "benefits" of this change, lawmakers claim, is that kids can now go trick-or-treating during daylight hours.

Huh? This is a good thing?

Darkness is the whole point of Halloween. It's like having a white Christmas, or a sunny Easter morning, except that the latter two are a matter of luck for people in temperate climates. But night always comes. And when night falls, Halloween begins.

The holiday has been a matter of controversy in recent years, with some folks claiming that it glorifies evil and constitutes a religious celebration (that religion being Satanism). A more secular viewpoint counters that Halloween is harmless fun, a chance to eat candy and play dress-up, and that we shouldn't take it so seriously.

My opinion, as always, lies somewhere in the middle.

Halloween is about the darkest elements of our lives: fear and death. More importantly, fear of death. The ancient Celts celebrated Halloween's forerunner, Samhain, the time when the barriers between this world and the next were thinnest, the time when the souls of the dead walked the earth to be entertained by the living.

Halloween lets us play with our fear of death. By bringing the ultimate mystery out into the open and ritualizing it with costumes and scary tales, we can face our mortality in the comfort of a community celebration. Fear in the context of fantasy is manageable, even empowering. We can revel in the things that would otherwise turn our stomachs or freeze our blood, knowing that they're not real. We can even be the things we fear most, thus rendering them powerless.

Those of us who celebrate Christmas need Halloween for balance, in the same way we need Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday; Easter and Good Friday.

Halloween shouldn't be condemned as an invitation to the devil, and it shouldn't be sanitized as a bland, meaningless "harvest festival." Either view misunderstands both its origins and its spiritual purpose in our lives today.

Halloween is our one night to dance with the shadows, knowing the sun will rise tomorrow.


I am totally with you on the Daylight Savings Time change. We decorate the house to be scary in the dark, with a glowing ghost in the window and colored lights on the porch. What's the good of jack-o-lanterns if you can't see their eerie glow?

And while I'm agreeing with you, right on about the meaning. It's not a harvest festival. It's not satanism.

At church on Sunday we had a Day of the Dead celebration. It was an inter-generational service with a play about leaves falling off a tree (the leaves die, the tree continues to live). We also wrote notes to the dead and burned them. It was a chance to cherish the memory of those no longer with us. My older daughter wrote a note to her fish and Gus the cat that was really sweet.

Posted by: Blogger Andrew at 11/03/2005 12:10 AM

That's so cool, Andrew, about the church service. It sounds like it was a beautiful experience.

On a related note, we went to an Ash Wednesday service years ago at he Catholic church we were attending at the time. We were asked to write one sin that we would be concentrating on for Lent on a small piece of paper, then it would be collected and burned. I think I wrote "envy" or something like that on mine.

Just before we passed them up, Chris showed me his. He had written "soda." I suffered from the worst case of church-giggles the rest of the Mass.

Posted by: Blogger Jeri at 11/03/2005 8:04 AM

On a selfish note, the proposed change in Daylight Savings Time allowed me to plan a fun scene in my second vampire book. The novel begins on Halloween, and the following Sunday morning the character's vampire boyfriend nearly fries because she remembers to set her clock back before they go to bed, but forgets to change the alarm. When sunrise comes an hour early, hilarity ensues!

Posted by: Blogger Jeri at 11/03/2005 8:17 AM

SODA?!? Well, that says something about Chris, but I'm not sure what.


Posted by: Anonymous Anonymous at 11/03/2005 11:56 AM

Well, he thought we were supposed to write what we were giving up for Lent. So probably he should have written "not paying attention during Mass" as his sin. But I thought it was cute and kind of appropriate, since he's such a good guy.

Posted by: Blogger Jeri at 11/03/2005 12:14 PM

Oh, the wages of soda are grave indeed.

And the daylight savings time change allows the daylight trick-or-trating scene in Halloween to finally make sense. I've been saying for years that John Carpenter had this country's politicians in his pocket. NOW do you believe me???

Posted by: Blogger Rob S. at 11/03/2005 4:23 PM

I've come to be of the opinion that soda is a sin worthy of giving up.

Posted by: Blogger Andrew at 11/04/2005 9:04 AM

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