Monday, October 27, 2014

A Changed Holiday

Halloween has taken off commercially like never before. Stores are filled with costumes and decorations of all types. Zombie movies and horror stories are all the rage and even radio stations play Halloween music. It is incredible how this holiday has evolved.

Growing up in the middle of a state forest, I absolutely enjoyed Halloween because it was a fall holiday that celebrates the splendid colors of the fall season. I appreciated the religious overtones to the reflective final weeks of the liturgical year that were being ushered in after one last blast of faux-scariness. Peace would descend upon the last as the last leaves would fall from the maples, elms, and poplars. Halloween always conveyed to me that something more final was afoot.

I think the appeal today has more to do with dressing up as one's heroes than it does putting on the gore. My nieces and nephews and their friends are trying to look authentically like their favorite cartoon characters or as someone who is filled with goodwill. The older crowds likes the gory stuff of the undead, but it never seems like pagan worship, just a masquerade party whose limits are surreal. Most however dress as fashionably as they can.

The store decorations are to welcome people into a festive time rather than to scare demons away. Halloween wreaths and greeting signs are becoming much more tasteful. They blend in with the autumnal atmosphere. I'm sure school children are taught that the origins of this festival was to scare away the evil spirits in order that the souls of the faithful departed may rest eternally in peace.

One of the mainstays of the Halloweens of my youth was the abundance of candy, most which were artfully crafted by neighbors for Trick or Treaters. Those days of community distribution of baked goods are now replaced by in-house parties where the sweet and salty goodies can be traced back to parents who staff the events.

A few traditional candies remain on the market shelves: the all-sugar candy corn, jellied pumpkins, waxed lips, and other former penny-candy delights. Halloween storefronts seem to have more decorations than they do candy.

Pumpkin has certainly taken off as a seasonal speciality. Pumpkin saturation is everywhere from coffee, to muffins, candles, air scents, and whatever else enhances the season. These days, you cannot avoid pumpkin.

Candy was once a rare treat in 19th century America. They were produced by confectioners to be sold in pharmacies. Confectioners would confect prescription drugs and sometimes these medicines were imbedded (to everyone's knowledge) into candy. The old saying holds, "A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down." Candy was meant to treat common infirmities. I recall some candies even tasting like medicine, Necco wafers, cough drops, clove gum, and other unique candies.

With the easier access to sugar, entrepreneurs found that offering candy was a marketing device to get people into their stores. Universal dentistry was not yet in place and some people developed a dietary moralism about the evils of candy. Halloween was a special time of the year in which candy could be distributed more freely.

Today, it is not easy to tell what is candy and what is not. Energy bards like Fiber One and those that are covered in memory-enhancing dark chocolate seem to have the same quality of chocolate bars, but they are sold as something different. We abhor candy, but love these treats. Fruit roll-ups and juice drinks are filled with the sugar we love and hate. Candy has simply taken another form in our consciousness. Candy bars are so much smaller than a mere 25 years ago, but they are new and improved. Bite sized morsels are designed for us to indulge, but delicately respecting our diets. The landscape, like the Halloween holiday, has changed.

For me, I focus on the pumpkins and gourds, the falling leaves, and the apple picking. I like the long walks in the great outdoors with my camera as the fading light encroaches upon the land. I begin to think about those who have gone to God during the past year and I ask them to pray for us during these troubled times. Halloween is the setup for the real holiday. I simply begin to remember and to prepare for what lies ahead and I want to enjoy life in Christ as he is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I want to feel the communion of saints, living and deceased, and I want to take the time to feel alive again. Halloween appeals to my sensory world and it feeds my imagination and gives meaning to a redeemed world of goodness.




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