Monday, November 2, 2009

October into November

I've been reading posts that Halloween is hell in Anytown, U.S.A., as the drunks come out with extra gimmicks and twice the stupidity. (Here and same blog, here, glad you made it!) That was true in Rivertown also--people like costumes there. They spend more than a little time on them.

The next day was All Saint's Day. The day after that was All Soul's Day (all the dead, saintly or not). That's in the Catholic calendar, and in Rivertown and many cities all over the world, believers go to cathedrals those days. They clean up the grave sites of loved ones. After the abandon to death and revelry, there is duty to the dead and to family.

They bring white paint for small mausoleums, or colors to refresh the robe of a concrete saint. They bring plastic roses, usually pink, standing for the Virgin Mary but also practical: not quite the passion of a red, not so quickly dirtied as a white or yellow rose. Perhaps they bring hedge clippers and trash bags.

There's a fine Italian tradition of low maze-type boxwood on a grave, being trimmed carefully to keep the pattern, that I think has become a tradition in parts of both Americas. Then even sometimes a picnic: some cold beer or wine, cake, bread and hard cheese. It's okay to sit on a grave, your family's place, and eat and drink when the tasks are done. And I think that's a much better tradition in a graveyard than one that inspires gothic respect such as "watch your step".

This dutiful tradition seems to be dying out. Harder to believe, when it's such a commercial success, but Halloween seems to be dying out too. The costumes only fit one age group (small) and are awfully like product placement. The costumes for the other age group (newly drinking) caters to the one-night stand (very Dionysian) but like a hangover, only looks like a mistake or otherwise valueless the next morning.

And we gave up trick or treat a long time ago. Instead of an interactive game with real people in it--a kind of gleeful extortion--we have a cute-but-annual candy tax.
The tricks are either too much like vandalism or nonexistent--they always were a pain in the butt, such as soaped windows, but we stopped having patience for this before I was a child. The treats somehow became too dangerous to give or receive.

Treats and tricks, costumes and masks, became something bought not made. They're less likely to forge connections, give us a period of relief, build for us a memory.

I'm generalizing. But perhaps we get hangovers because not too many of us live where our ancestors rest any longer.  I think it's mostly because so many of us have duties that have become so constrained--holiday and otherwise--that they inspire no devotion at all.

And on the other hand, looks like some people had a great time . . .


Anonymous said...

My neighborhood was alive with hordes of children, followed by dutiful parents bundled against the breeze in winter coats that only recently came out of storage. One lady had her garage door open and was serving hot dogs and hot apple cider, along with the Tootsie Rolls and Now n' Laters. But I also don't think my neighborhood is representative of the norm anymore.

They say at work, the trick or treaters were spotty at best, and someone drove around all night shooting out windows with a bb gun. I'm glad I was off.

Ann T. said...

Sounds like your neighborhood is definitely the place to be.

My mom used to sew costumes that would be useful later, like white flannel nightgowns for angels (uh-huh, that was me) and my dad was all into the stage makeup. It's the rituals that make a difference!

Thanks for responding,
Ann T.