Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween fun sacrificed by political purists

Halloween has been fun and games for decades. Children dress up in wild costumes and parade up and down their neighbourhoods in search of generous donations of candy. Adults dress up in wilder costumes and celebrate at parties with friends. All around, the motivation in modern North American society has been a simple day of silly fun. Can it be that midget Spidermen or Catwomen running around, or larger adult size Frankensteins be somehow offensive to anyone?

Apparently in today's society the answer more often is becoming a resounding yes. Slowly more and more communities are banning Halloween costumes and celebrations from schools, in opposition of the objections of parents or the children. Why is such a fever growing? Is it that local supermarkets run low on candy supplies, or is the tradition of Halloween somehow frightening?

There is tradition and love behind Halloween, as hard as it is to believe. It is not a dreamt up North American fun fest travelling down a yellow brick road filled with colourful lollypops, foil wrapped caramels and mini bags of potato chips. In fact Halloween costumes are strongly influenced by Christianity and its practices. The celebration of Halloween falls on the evening before the Christian liturgical holy days of All Hallows Day (also known as All Saints, or Hallowmas) on November 1st and All Souls Day on November the 2nd.

In the Christian faith All Hallows Day and All Souls Day represent the celebration and remembrance of the dead, including saints (or hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed believers. Family and friends remember their departed, and the church celebrates the memory of saints and martyrs of the faith. An important fact is that Halloween is not an American invention celebrated mainly in North America. Nor is it some wicked black magic fest with witches or wolves howling at the moon.

Haiti celebrates its version on November 2nd and calls it Jour des Morts. Contrary to Hollywood belief voodoo is not a Haitian invention, rather it was brought to Haiti first in the 18th Century by African slaves. The culture that Jour des Morts, or Day of the Dead, is based on and centres on a group of spirits, the rulers of the underworld and followers of Chede. Yet it is not a zombie fest rather it is a festival where Haitians believe they can communicate with the spirits as a celebration of life and humanity.

In Transylvania, Romania Halloween is an open door invitation to the castle of Vlad Tepes, the inspiration behind Bram Stroker's Dracula. Vlad Tepes was born in 1431 and ruled as Prince of Wallachia Romania, from 1456 to 1462. In his short reign Vlad put a new meaning on the word vicious. Now tourists flock to his birthplace and on October 31st all are itching for a glimpse of the undead, for an entry fee naturally.

Halloween in today's world is more about fun. Dressing up in costumes whether as a child or adult allows one to let go of the daily routines, and play. There are still parts of the world where the celebration is still deeply rooted in solemn tradition. In Bolivia the celebration is called Carnaval de Oruro and falls ten days before lent. This festival is observed by the Uru people of Bolivia (the Uru are a Pre-Inca tribe), and has been celebrated in South America since Pre-Columbian times. A main feature of the Carnaval de Oruro is the dance of the devils also known as a La Diablada. With more than 28,000 dancers and a parade lasting some 20 hours, onlookers would need something more comfortable than a folding plastic chair.

Mexico's celebration begins October 31st and continues through to November 2nd. Here the festival is called Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. In Mexico the holiday is still deeply rooted in religious belief and culture, and has remained so for hundreds of years. Regardless in what corner of the world, whether the celebration is called Halloween or by any other name, one common thread ties all together. It is the celebration and commemoration of family and friends who had passed away. Japan's Obon Festival, celebrated on August 15th exemplifies the core meaning, as a peaceful time to reflect and remember. China celebrates a day before on August 14th the Hungry Ghost Festival, Germany calls theirs Walpurgisnacht on April 30th and Guatemala calls their festival La Quema de Diablo, or the Burning of the Devil on December 7th.

Ireland's Samhain is believed to be the early ancestor of today's Halloween. It celebrated the final harvest of the year and paid tribute to the departed, and after the potato famine of 1845 departed for the shores of North America. As anything in history, it has evolved and changed. Few, if any, in North America attach religious symbolism to Halloween. After all it is hard to remain serious with fake blood dripping down one's chin. Yet somehow the political puritans have managed to spoil even Halloween.

Salem, Massachusetts survived the Witch Hunts from 1692 to 1693, leaving in its wake charred bodies of innocent human beings. Today the political purists have put a new 'b' word on their banners, it is 'banning'. For whatever reason those new millennium purists have decided to make us feel ashamed of who we are, our culture and even our own history. All in the name of political correctness and a new rule of 'let's not offend'. More and more schools across Canada and the US are banning children from wearing costumes for Halloween. Instead they have replaced the fun and freaky with the chic orange and black. A child's imagination can run wild now deciding whether the top is orange and the bottom is black, or vice versa.

The political purists claim that favouring a specific religious or cultural custom would be offensive to others. Their answer is, let's ban at the stake. Somehow they had overlooked the fact that most of those who came to our shores, did so in search of a better life. After all it was the potato famine that brought with it Halloween in the first place. If it's not the 'let's not offend' edict, then the excuse is based on equality. Here the claim is that children from families where a budget is based on imagination and DIY principles as opposed to a credit card, can feel that they are something less. Sadly these political puritans forget that our children rarely see differences. Children of all races and religions play together it is when maturity sets in that change takes over, and bias and bigotry begins.

We should let our children teach us their acceptance of each other without fear or shame. Halloween today is for fun, for silly costumes and candy. It is enough that going out into one's neighbourhood is not as safe as it may of been in the past. Do we have to add more unpleasant emotion to it? Why are we so busy making ourselves ashamed of who we are, all in the name of not offending someone else?

Christmas decorations have been banned from school buses. Halloween is facing a banning at the stake, being replaced with orange and black day. It seems our children are being programmed into conformity rather than individuality. Yet the malls, department stores and supermarkets across the country are dusting off their holiday decorations and the repetitive holiday music. Is it less offending in a mall, rather than a school bus? Or is it simply that the race for the all important buck supersedes any thoughts that the political purists have of what may be offensive and to who. In the end dollar$ speak louder than the Supreme Court in its decision to not favour any one specific religious or cultural belief!

It's Halloween, so go scare someone! 

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