Halloween: A Joyful Dance with the Dark

A community holiday deep in tradition.

By: Emily Groleau, Root & Seed Editor

Diwali daya, or oil lantern, held in hands

Against its more secular associations with pumpkins, ghosts, witches, and enough candy to haunt dentists’ dreams, Halloween stands apart from other family-focused holidays through its many complexities.

Where it begins

Traditionally known as “All Hallows’ Eve”, this holiday appears to have been inspired by the ancient Celt’s Samhain, or harvest festival. With winter on the horizon, Samhain allowed the Celts to revel in a fleeting moment of autumnal abundance, while acknowledging the presence of those who had passed away.

The original meaning behind the “Hallow” in Halloween refers to a hallowed, or sacred time, when barriers between the earth and spirit worlds blur.

Although expressed differently across cultures, the over-arching idea of these two realms colliding can be seen throughout history and across the world. For instance, Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos (Day of The Dead), is a remembrance and purposefully bright homage to lost loved ones. There have also been comparisons drawn with the Jewish holiday Purim, a celebration of survival coupled with costumes, sweets, and even some symbolic heckling of age-old villains.

Snapshots of life in the Hallow

For many, Halloween holds meaning outside of spirituality, but meaning all the same. It can be felt through reliving moments and observing small, long-held traditions—the smell of roasting pumpkin seeds after scooping out the insides of a freshly carved jack-o-lantern; listening for crisp, crunching sounds of fall leaves under booted feet on the slow walk to a bus stop; cuddling up under blankets in pyjamas to watch Hocus Pocus (the VHS-original mangled of course, but still treasured); the adrenaline of running door-to-door, watching breath swiftly vanish in a puff of white against a late-October sky.

Aarti’s own connection to this holiday is deeply intertwined with cherished childhood memories of her grandfather. Despite being nearly halfway around the world from his home country of India and in his 70s, Aarti’s grandfather soon began “embracing the new Canadian tradition and experiences through his grandkids.” Part of this included faithfully taking Aarti trick-or-treating every year, refusing to go home until she had the requisite full bag of candy. “He lived with us and it was a tradition he and I shared.” He would often dress up, too. It was cold, but the pair held hands to keep each other warm, “joking and having fun” until it was late and their feet hurt. “He was not only my safety guard, but my teammate,” Aarti recalls.

“I always remember him on Halloween. He’s like a beautiful spirit that I feel with me on this day.”

Embracing community

Maybe one of the most unique aspects of Halloween is how much the day itself is centered around sharing experiences within communities. Whereas some of the more cheerily branded holidays invite us to gather for special moments in more insular spaces, like places of worship and family homes, Halloween’s revelry in the dark encourages a rare intimacy with our communities at large. We set up neighbourhood haunted houses or corn mazes, and lots of adults buy more candy than a single household should ever eat. The very idea of trick-or-treating—perhaps one of the most inextricable traditions tied to Halloween—is all about going out and meeting one another in a spirit of fun and generosity. Even the young at heart, if not age, are urged to participate. They can hold a welcoming space at the doorstep of their home, or even just hold a loved young one’s hand.


 

Do you have a special Halloween memory, or a tradition that your family has for the holiday? Please share in the comments below.