“Traditional”

It’s almost October.

You know what that means. It means damp, russet leaves underfoot and a chill in the air like a whisper telling you to make vegetable soup. It means zipping up jackets and debating whether or not you need to wear a beanie. It means gratefully pulling on your Uggs on the way out the door because they have once again become borderline acceptable, like they do every year around the time Starbucks brings out the pumpkin spice latte. It means cold fingers and early dusk and thick, knitted jumpers that feel like inanimate hugs.

I like Autumn, and I particularly like October. There is something magical about Halloween; I love that the tradition has lasted to the present day. I love the pumpkin-carving and the skeletons and the ghosts and the fireworks. I love the idea of a holiday that involves death in such a harmless way, a traditional, cultural celebration that’s a little macabre but ultimately unthreatening.

A couple of years ago, I visited family in Spain and brought with me some cartoon Halloween stickers for the kids. They were packs with the usual cast of characters – an arched cat, a laughing witch, a cheery pumpkin – and I gave them out to the younger children because it was about this same time of year, and in my experience all little kids love stickers.

Quick as a flash their dad was right there, taking them back from the children and shuffling them into a neat pile as if he were taking cards from gambling addicts about to play a game of poker. I stared at him, wondering if he intended to save them for later. Maybe he was afraid they would stick them on the dashboard of his car?

Instead, he turned, held them out to me, and stiffly said, “Thank you, but we don’t celebrate pagan holidays.”

I took them from him wordlessly and stared in disbelief as he got into the car and they drove away, a huddle of forlorn faces looking longingly out the back window at the contraband stickers in my hand.

I think about that quite a bit around this time of year, especially as the houses in my area start to get creative with their front garden decor. Some put motion-activated sensors at their gates so that anyone passing through hears rattling chains and ghoulish moans. Plastic ravens are twist-tied to trees, and small stuffed ghosties made from ping-pong balls and tissue paper dangle from invisible string. There are candles and cobwebs and paper decorations in the windows. It’s like a creepy Christmas. I LOVE it, and so do the kids. I would hate to see the tradition of trick-or-treating die away.

Last year in Spain there was a lot of controversy, because some of the traditional Three Wise Men parades that happen every January were… modified. They were adapted; secularised slightly in an professed attempt to make it more inclusive. The staunch Catholics were, of course, up in arms about it. They complained about there being a lack of respect for tradition and how it shouldn’t matter that it’s a Catholic tradition, because it’s part of the culture, and it’s for the children after all, and why can’t people just enjoy it?

Personally, I agree that traditions are important. They’re cultural touchstones. Even if the root of the tradition is something to give pause (I’m not sure American Thanksgiving is as wholesome as the name suggests, and Valentine’s Day celebrates the execution of a saint), the traditions themselves bring people together. I remember the magic of the Three Wise Men when I was a child. I remember them throwing fistfuls of sweets into the crowds, I remember the jeweled robes and the pageboys and the music and the sparkling lights. I LOVED it. I certainly didn’t stop to think about the religious undertones, in much the same way as I was largely oblivious to the pagan history of Samhain when I dressed up for Halloween.

As I listened to the Catholics on the television banging on about how people needed to think of the children and respect the beauty of tradition, I thought about the Halloween stickers. I thought about how intolerant that man had been with what amounted to a silly symbol of a strange and wonderful tradition. I wondered why people feel so threatened by beliefs other than their own, and why sometimes we can’t just allow ourselves to enjoy things that aren’t hurting anyone.

It would be nice for people to respect the beauty of tradition, but I would happily settle for people just learning to respect each other.

11 comments
  1. Halloween is one of my favourite times of year, but it’s not really a big thing in Australia. One year I would love to travel in October, to a place that legitimately has a celebration for it. Until then, I’ll just look longingly from a distance at the countries that actually DO make a big deal of it!

    1. I’ll take photos so you can see how my street celebrates! It always warms my heart a bit to see people go all out for the kids.

  2. Living in Portugal, I understand the point you’re making.

    On the other hand; if you “would happily settle for people just learning to respect each other” that should automatically mean that you accept and respect the man to be threatened by a tradition that is not his own and reject the stickers. However silly that rejection may be…

    Peace.

  3. I agree, I absolutely love October. Halloween isn’t my favorite holiday, but October in New Hampshire is absolutely gorgeous. My fiance flies in next week, and the last time he was here was in March where it was cold, wet, and snowy. There’s nothing to do around here that time of year. Now that he’s coming for October, there’s a MILLION things to do because it’s so beautiful, there are Harvest festivals, the weather is perfect. I’m gushing hahaha. And American Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. I understand the heat it gets and that it was a dark time back then, but it doesn’t mean it needs to be ignored because of the things that happened over 300 years ago. Even though my Thanksgiving has been different every year, I get the same feeling of comfort, warmth, relaxation, and excitement all at the same time.

  4. Most holidays are not as wholesome or accurately represented as one would be led to believe, American Thanksgiving being no exception. Halloween was always my favorite as well, particular because its one of the few holidays that isn’t so heavily centered on making lavish meals or giving expensive gifts. In fall and winter we don’t get any color changes or major temperature drops here but its still a cooler reprieve, marked mostly by decoration. It still amazes me how many people still don’t understand that almost every holiday has Pagan roots of some sort. I felt your longing in the writing.

  5. Beautifully written!!! I love autumn and soup time too 🙂 xo

  6. I agree! I love Halloween. When I was growing up there was a whole movement in my community to “put Jesus ahead of Halloween” and so all the churches began competing by having “Christ-filled” fall festivals which basically amounted to Halloween at church. I found it bizarre then, and thinking back, it seems even weirder to me as an adult. We go all out at our house for Halloween. Savannah, GA is hopping this time of year. Don’t mess with our Halloween celebrations. Granted, fall weather is nowhere in sight as the temps are in the low 90s today, but I’m ready to pull out all the goblins and face paint and don my witch costume. Look out!

  7. You are such an excellent writer, Quinn!

  8. This reminded me of the movie Love Actually and the lobsters in the Navitiy Play!!
    I love autumn when it first turns, the cosy nights and gorgeous colours and then I’m like hurry up summer, I actually quite like Halloween too which is funny because I ‘m scared of most of the costumes and the dark but I guess it reminds me of my childhood when I was less scared and had great times with my sisters and friends, trick or treating, apple dooking and carving TURNIPS!

  9. I never understood why people can’t just let each other live. As long as another tradition doesn’t impose a threat on me or my freedom, I’m good to go…

  10. I love Halloween too. I always thought of it as an exclusively American holiday–too tacky for other cultures. Glad others get to enjoy it. As a non-Christian living in an extremely Christian town, I get the push back against government sponsored religious displays. Everything is about Christ here from November 1 until December 26. My daughter told me that one of the songs she’s singing in school choir right now is “Jesus is a Rock”. She’s pretty resilient and lets this stuff roll off her back, but I could see another kid, especially one who follows a different religion my get a complex. Also, Thanksgiving in America is essentially about American Football. The TV is on all f-ing day. Everyone sits on the couch staring at the screen with a runner of drool seeping out of the corner of their mouth. For this reason, Thanksgiving is my least favorite holiday.

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