After my grumpy old woman post of Friday, I’ve been thinking a lot about this. I know that some of my forum members and friends do Trick or Treating with their children (and I’ve just noticed a new comment on the last post to this effect too) and one year when my sons were small, we did it too, much in the way of the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” line of thinking. As I said before, it’s not the dressing up or mischief I really object to, it’s more the whole commercial aspect of it I dislike. And having my door knocked on by strangers and being made to feel obliged to cough up. I dislike carol singers for much the same reason – maybe I’m just mean!
I was also a bit concerned after posting that I might have offended some of my American and Canadian readers, because what I said did sound rather anti towards them. I haven’t had any “angry from Connecticut” type e-mails, but I would like to stress that it’s not American customs that I dislike, more the way we’ve adopted the runaway commercialism towards this festival that I saw in shops in the USA during my August trip. I really was shocked at the sheer volume of merchandise available, and also how very big the whole thing is not just to children, as it is in the UK, but to adults too. Their homes must be decorated to the hilt if the goods I saw are bought by shoppers. And then it’s all got to come down for Christmas and all the tat that goes with that. Is it the same for Diwali and Hannukah I wonder?
This has led me to think hard about why we do it at all. Anyone who’s read Stonewylde will know that life there revolves around the eight pagan festivals. Everything is geared towards celebrating the current festival and then preparing for the next one. Eight festivals a year mean that there’s only ever a gap of six or seven weeks between each celebration. The standing stones in the Stone Circle are painted elaborately just before each festival with new emblems. The Great Barn is decorated, as is the Village Green for some festivals, and of course the Hall and the Villagers’ cottages. All the folk of Stonewylde dress up for the festivals in their robes, tunics and head-dresses too. And I got to thinking – why am I objecting so much to what we’re doing in the Outside World when I love what they do at Stonewylde?
It made me realise that perhaps there is a human need to celebrate. Every religion, even the most uncommercial ones such as Buddhism, celebrates festivals and marks the occasion with special food and drink, decorations and costumes. In the Western World where perhaps a loose type of Christianity is the dominant religion (or so I believe but I may be corrected on this of course!) there’s Valentine’s Day, Easter, Harvest Festival, Hallowe’en and the biggest one of all, Christmas. We also celebrate Rites of Passage such as birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, baptisms, etc. Is there a human need to do this I wonder? Do we need milestones and calendar events in our lives and our journey cheap phentermine online pharmacy through the year? And is this a throw-back to what’s celebrated at Stonewylde and other ancient cultures when festivals were a way of navigating through the year, long before people had paper calendars and diaries to mark the changing seasons?
So … maybe by decorating our homes with stuff at Hallowe’en and Christmas, sending greetings cards for every occasion, buying vast amounts of chocolate at Easter and all the other things we do is merely a throw-back from ancient times when we needed to map our lives to some kind of plan, and perhaps bring some joy into the drabness of survival by doing exciting things like dressing in special outfits and performing strange rituals. In which case the whole Trick or Treating thing could be seen in a different light.
Incidentally I’d love to know where and how this custom originated. And the name too. I can’t help but think it comes from the USA, but I don’t know. I do know that when the Pilgrim Fathers and then the whole influx of settlers from the UK, Eire and Europe reached the shores of America and Canada, they brought with them all their customs, some of which remained but were not kept in the motherland. For instance, I was fascinated to learn that although in the UK we call the season between summer and winter “autumn”, in those times we called it “fall”. In the UK this changed over time to “autumn”, but the custom of calling it “fall” remained in America. I’ve heard of other things (which escape me now) that went the same way. I wonder if the idea of knocking on peoples’ doors and threatening mischief if the householder didn’t provide a treat is perhaps an old UK custom. If so, how strange that it went out of practice here, only to be revived today. It’s certainly recent here because I know it wasn’t about when I was a child. If anyone knows anything about this, I’d love to hear.
Anyway, I hope I’ve clarified my previous post now. It really is the blatant consumerism and commercialism I object to so strongly. That and having my privacy invaded by people I don’t know knocking on my door. This morning I was disturbed by two Jehovah’s Witnesses trying to engage me in conversation and give me a pamphlet. Poor things – they were sent away with a flea in their ears, as you can imagine! What on earth gives them the right to disturb my peaceful Sunday morning, force me to be quite rude in order to get rid of them, and try in the first place to convert me to their awful religion? Can you imagine the uproar there’d be if for instance Muslims knocked on peoples’ doors on a regular basis and tried to convert everyone to Islam? Or perhaps even more shocking, a group of witches!! There’d be complete outrage I guess. So how come it’s accepted by most as almost inevitable that at some point you’ll be door-stepped by Watchtower-brandishing cultists in their best clothes trying to pretend they just want a friendly chat? Mmnn – food for another post maybe about the whole issue of trying to convert people to your religion!
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i think the old festivals have grown and changed as mankind has and, as we know, the old meanings have died with them, and the land fell asleep to protect herself.
the old ways died slowly with each generation and greed and consumerism took over until thats what people (not all people!) worship in this world now. luckily it seems the old ways are not totally gone from us and people are generally not afraid to be who they are and of course no longer need to hide it (although i did read something alarming from a pagan who felt it would be used against him at a future date~cant remember where now, thats going to bug me)
I think you’ve identified something quite rightly there Kit. The idea that at one time we needed festivals and special events to guide us through the year (prior to clocks and calendars etc.) really makes sense to me.
My birthday falls at the beginning of March and for me usually divides winter and Spring (I don’t mean this literally of course, more that it’s my personal new year). Anyway, as soon as Christmas and New Year are over with, I think to myself, “Right, not long till my birthday then, and some warmer weather!”
My point is that I agree with you Kit, we have always needed these marker points to guide us, it’s just a shame they have become so commercialised.
For us as a family we have never gone trick or treating. I didn’t do it, and my kids certainly don’t do it. My Mum always said it was begging.
My Dad can’t stand commercialism, I don’t send him a Father’s Day card. (Just another Hallmark Holiday in his words!) I often send him a text on father’s day that says, “As usual there is no card because I love you just as much on every other day of the year.”
I absolutely love dressing up at different times of the year, I just wish everybody thought a little more about why they are doing the things they do instead of stumbling blindly from one event to another.
Sometimes the only difference between the crap on sale at Christmas, Easter, Halloween etc. is the colour of the plastic it is made out of.
Hey Kit – have you come across “A Witches’ Bible; the complete witches handbook” by Janet and Stewart Farrar? From what I can gather I think a Celtic tradition at Samhain would have been for children to dress up (one as the “man in black”) and ask adults for apples and nuts etc The one masked as the one in black would say “I am the Man in Black – do you know me?” To me this makes sense as the beginning of trick or treat.
Personally I want to reclaim and celebrate the Sabbats. For winter solstice I will be decorating our home with holly and ivy and mistletoe etc etc – no tinsel in sight!!
Love and light – aka (on Stonewylde forum) MPoppins x
We celebrate Samhain in our house with decorating the house. Our altar has gourds, nuts, hips, haws, old mans beard and other items collected from woodland walks on it. During the 31st we harvest our pumpkins and turnips from the veg patch and carve them into lanterns – they then are lit at each entrance to the home.
A special candle is lit in remembrance of our ancesters, and in our cauldron (half filled with water) are lit floating candles – one for each pet, friend or soul we know who has passed on since the last Samhain. Their names are said aloud.
A fire is then lit in the fire pit of our garden, and we feast around it – ususally a pumpkin feast or food we’ve grown or gathered. A portion of each dish and drink is left out as an offering.
Later in the evening we hold our own personal rituals to honour our recent dead and our ancestors.
The following day (the 1st is when we visit the graves of friends, pets or family), small candles are lit or flowers are left – depending on what is most appropriate.
These rituals done – we then invite others to share with us another feast to celebrate the end of summer, the coming of winter and to raise a glass of something good to the dead. A bit of a party follows. We find the ancestors enjoy a bit of mirth mixed in with the reverance!
We do seem to need to acknowledge the changing seasons and energies. The problem is mistaking the outward form for the inner, the trinkets and baubles for what they represent, the statement for the living reality. Too easily done. Our ancestors had no choice but to mark the seasons’ progression – they were right there in it.
There’s an interesting development amongst Quakers, with some becoming interested in Paganism and Pagans becoming interested in Quakerism: how to reconcile a tradition of high ceremonial with a tradition of rejecting ritual? My answer is that Quakers can teach Pagans to examine whether rituals are “empty forms” which block the connection to the divine by becoming an end in themselves, and Quakers can learn that rejection of outward forms is about the rejection of blocks to connecting with the divine, not of all rituals in and of themselves.
Back to trick Or Treat: there’s the long established British Mischief Night [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mischief_night], celebrated on Hallowe’en or May Eve (Walpurgisnacht – oh those dangerous fairy troops!), which seems to have merged with Trick Or Treat.