It’s that time again. Allhallowstide (a word I only discovered recently) covers the days between October 31 and November 2, which in the Christian faiths, encompasses All Hallows, All Saints, and All Souls day. It wasn’t until the 9th century that the Church dedicated the end of Autumn as a holy time to pray for the departed (it became an obligation in the 12th century), but pre-Christian societies had already earmarked the occasion. Samhain was the most important feast day in ancient Ireland. It marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of the ‘darker half’ of the year. Halloween, as we know it, developed when Irish immigrants brought their mix of Christian and Celtic customs to the New World. In the last twenty years, I have watched it come back across the Atlantic. When my daughters were small, I found it near impossible, and exorbitant, to buy pumpkins at the end of October. Last week I saw a ‘Pumpkin carving kit’ for sale in Lidl, and cheap pumpkins line the aisles of every supermarket in the county.
Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. Living in the countryside makes you more in tune with the seasons and it just feels right to mark the death of all that lush greenery we enjoyed last summer. Getting my dark side on at this time of year is as appropriate as gathering mint for mojitos in July (made with elderflower cordial!) The darkness lengthens, the cold sets in, and the land sleeps. Let’s face it — it’s a pretty creepy time. Lighting even spookier carved pumpkins and dressing up as the undead counters the dismay. Which is why I’m not a big fan of the ‘happy’ Halloween costume. Even the smallest child should get a chance to look as scary as possible. That’s what Halloween is for. We remember that life is short, by making fun of death.
I’m not being morbid. Death is something that we all need to get our heads around and mocking what we fear to make it less scary is a Universal human trait. Halloween allows us to find comfort in the fact that, though the world is a scary place at times, we are still capable of celebrating.
Urban modern living hides the messy realities of death. Raising children in the countryside makes it much easier for parents. Death becomes a part of life. I remember the first time that I confronted the subject of death with my girls. They were around five and eight years-old and they came running into the house yelling that they had saved a baby bird. We went out for a look and found a tiny fledgling trembling on the ground. As the girls excitedly made plans for building it a nest and feeding it by hand, I realised that the bird wasn’t going to make it. I was trying to formulate a way to tell the girls when the little creature gave a shuddering twitch and died. The girls were sad, but accepted the obvious: the little bird had fallen out of the nest and was too small to survive. They were soon as excited preparing the bird’s funeral arrangements, as they had been planning for its rescue. Over the years we have had many lovely pet and ‘saved animal’ funerals. Some have been sad and some have been rather jolly, but all have helped us to accept that life and death, love and loss don’t cancel each other out. They go hand in hand.
Speaking of life and death, love and loss; we have mourned the loss of our two beloved cats in the last year. They were the longest living cats we‘ve ever had (over ten years) and were both cruelly cut down in their prime by a passing car. This house needs cats if I don’t want to be running a rodent breeding programme over the winter, and so we now have a brand new crew. As I write, the big cat (who arrived last year) is juggling a dead bird under the table, trying to attract the two kittens who are rolling around in the feathers. Both were found on the road and we took them in. I know that the sound of their tiny paws stampeding across the floor like a miniature herd of rhinos will bring a smile to my face, even on the darkest day of ‘darker half’ of the year.