I went to school for reading coaching yesterday with a head full of snakes, because if you have the costuming means to do so, why the hell wouldn’t you? And if you can’t dress up on Halloween at an elementary school, where can you? This is why it’s nice to be a volunteer vs. being an employee: that whole “projecting a professional image” thing just don’t enter into it.
When I discussed Halloween with the reading coordinator, and asked if folks dressed up for the day, and she said I was welcome to. I told her I had my Medusa headdress waiting in the wings, and she said, “You’re just like one of the kids!” I told her I have no inner child; my child is right out in front pretty much all the time. She’s 8, and tremendously fun if I do say so myself.
The snakes were a hit amongst the office staff when I checked in, and among the kids when their teachers pulled me in from the doorway to show off my snakes. I was a little sad to have to take them off when I got back into the car (because it’s a lot of snakes; I can’t wear it while driving and still fit in the car, as my Hyundai doesn’t have a sunroof).
As I was driving home, I was thinking that the reason I like Halloween most (besides miniature candy bars) is the fact that we still celebrate it, this ancient holiday. I mean, think about it: it’s a pagan celebration that we’ve been acknowledging for 11 centuries, starting with Samhain and despite all the cultural and Christian religious overlays since, we’re still dressing up and appeasing spirits, even if only our own. It’s fun, and there’s candy. What’s not to love?
It cracks me up to see some of these churches who refuse to celebrate Halloween because they think it’s Satanic nonetheless holding an “Autumn Festival” or “Harvest Festival” instead, perhaps avoiding imagined demonic overtones, but ironically bringing the event even closer to its historic pagan roots.
I often find myself struck by things like this, things that don’t change when everything around us seemingly changes all the time. Signs that good, harmless traditions matter to people, or that sometimes the old ways are still the best ways. I remember driving down a street, watching a road crew digging a hole with shovels, the backhoe sitting silently nearby and thinking that sometimes, despite all our machinery and innovation, you still have to get your hands dirty and use brute force. I like that green bean casserole is a thing known to multiple generations of families across the nation; you can pretty much expect to find it at any American potluck or holiday table. (Do they eat green bean casserole elsewhere in the world? Or do they have their own equivalent?)
And when I cook (I mean really cook, not just heat things up), I think of myself as just one of the latest in a long line of untold generations of women who have put in time over stoves and cook fires, feeding their families. And while don’t think that that particular history should equal destiny, I like that kind of human continuity, because it reminds me how we are connected to each other: across cultures, across time. That’s why I always wear green on March 17th. I’m not Irish, but it’s a little thing that brings us together in a fun way every year. It costs us nothing, but for a day here and there we can be a community instead of focusing on our differences.
And I like that the parents of my generation enjoyed Halloween so much as children that they’ve introduced it to their own children, who will revisit their own positive memories of Halloween with their children in turn. It’s a fun family time, a chance to meet the neighbors in a ritual of trust and generosity, and did I mention candy? And I think that’s the reason it’s lasted into modern times, when scaring off evil spirits and celebrating the harvest is not a real priority for most of us. It is a thread that connects us, a connection I think that, on some level, we all yearn for.