Folk customs and traditional festivities

(October 03, 2015)

Despite the imminent arrival of the ‘festive season’ we still have Halloween to get through – a time of folk custom and traditional festivities. But wait, the folk customs I recall from 50 years ago or more appear to have lost ground to what is better called ‘marketing customs’. These commercial rituals have turned the Halloween festival into some grotesque excuse to spend stupid amounts of money on red-devil horned masks, plastic spiders and fake blood.

A contraction of All Hallows' Evening (also known as All Hallows' Eve or All Saints' Eve) Halloween depending upon your personal preferences is a Christianised celebration dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints, martyrs and faithful departed believers, an ancient feast-time to celebrate bringing home the harvest or the festival of Samhain marking the beginning of winter or the ‘darker-half’ of the year.

Typically, ancient festive activities included such fun and games as trick-or-treating, carving pumpkins or turnips into lanterns, household and community singing, lighting bonfires (the traditional ‘bonefire’) and apple bobbing among many others, depending on country or region. In Christian festivals All Hallows' Eve includes attending church services and in some, lighting candles on the graves of the dead. However, pagan or not, today’s customs are commercialised beyond belief. It’s hard to find shops and supermarkets without enticing displays of ‘Halloween’ costumes, masks and ‘ghostly’ paraphernalia.

The commercialisation of Halloween has reached epic proportions. Even the customary trick-or-treating celebrations have gone beyond costumed children going from house to house asking for treats with the question "Trick or treat?" The question now comes with a far more ominous implied ‘threat’. The trick or mischief has graduated beyond doorbell ringing and running away (about as dangerous as it got when I was child) to ‘egging’ or scratching cars, letting down tyres, posting unmentionables through letter boxes and threats of window-breaking.

Now maybe I’m old fashioned but turning an age-old folk custom into a veiled threat smacks of something rather unpleasant. When I was young we blagged turnips and made half-way successful attempts to carve them into candle-filled lanterns and hung them on string across the trees in the lane. We ran around the village knocking on doors and asking our neighbours for nothing more than a couple of boiled sweets or chocolate. Then the older ones among us congregated outside (or sneaked inside) the village pub, for an early-evening listen to singing and music.

I love tradition and all it represents. Unfortunately, many modern interpretations are far removed from their origins. Perhaps there’s a faint hope that one day the’ old ways’ will gain a revitalised lease of life and make a reappearance … or perhaps not. I for one hope that modern versions of Halloween fail like so many marketing initiatives and evaporate as quickly as they materialise, so we can get back into the turnip-carving, bonfire-lighting, apple-bobbing, community singing days of my childhood.

Until then I’ll  wait for the next ‘marketing custom’ to arrive as we rush towards the mess that marketing gurus (wonderful oxymoron) have made of Christmas.

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