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Halloween Can’t Truly Be Cancelled

Cities and towns in the wake of Hurricane Sandy have been canceling Halloween events: no trick-or-treating in many places, no big Halloween parade in New York, no parties and haunted houses.

This is fine, necessary and right. Much of the eastern seaboard is in crisis, and communities need to do what is necessary to keep everyone safe and get things running again.

Canceling Halloween events isn’t the same as canceling Halloween, though.

Over at Motherlode, KJ Dell’Antonia asks if Halloween can be postponed, or if it will come anyway. My answer is resounding “Happy Halloween!”. This holiday is here, whether we celebrate it or not.

In her essay, KJ asserts that Halloween has no religious defenders, “no spirit of Halloween, no message, no meaning”. She’s not quite right.

Halloween is a special day for me and my family. In addition to the big mainstream holiday with costumes and candy, we’re celebrating the Pagan holiday Samhain. The two are intimately connected, as Christine Kraemer writes for CNN:

In American culture, Halloween has mostly become a reason for a good party.

So it may surprise you to learn that the roots of Halloween are religious. In fact, for Americans who practice contemporary Paganism, Halloween is one of the two most important religious holidays of the year. Known as Samhain (pronounced SOW-un), the holiday is modeled after the ancient Celtic festival that marked the beginning of winter.

For us, Samhain is the time that the veil between the worlds grows thin, allowing communication with our beloved ancestors. It’s a time for honoring those who have passed and celebrating the new births in our community. For many, it’s the turning of the new year.

How does this connect to Halloween? It’s what underpins the habit of dressing up as something otherworldly and going out into the street, for starters.

But we don’t need to get deeply into Pagan thinking to find meaning in Halloween. There’s a special magic to hordes of little children pouring out into the street to demand candy from strangers. There’s something powerful in adults getting to dress up in their silly scary wildest best outfits and read ghost stories and go to parties and do the things we do at Halloween.

These traditions are a way of connecting to our neighbors and friends, while at the same time celebrating the wild parts of ourselves, the fantasies we have about who we might become or what we’re afraid of. There absolutely is a spirit of Halloween, and it’s as much Where The Wild Things Are  as it is Casper the Friendly Ghost.

So like KJ I want to urge everyone to stay safe tonight. Where I live in Boston we have a few downed tree branches to skirt around on our trick-or-treating route but no serious storm issues to deal with tonight. Our friends down the coast aren’t so lucky, and my thoughts and prayers stay with them as they deal with the reprecussions of the storm.

But wherever you are tonight, and however you celebrate, Happy Halloween! I hope a little of the warmth of community seeps into your night, and that you’re able to celebrate something otherworldly and wild at least in a small way.

How will you be celebrating Halloween tonight?

 

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