Halloween and the Extended Christmas Season

October 8, 2011 | 19 comments
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For me, Christmastime starts around the end of September, with the first hints of autumn coolness. It extends through Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, and ends sometime around mid-February. My calendar looks something like this:

  • Christmastime (September through February)
  • The Wet & Cold Season (March through May)
  • The Hot & Dry Season (June through August)

Being yet the beginning of October, we’re still right around my new year. When the relentless Sacramento summer heat starts to withdraw and I need to roll my windows up for my morning commutes, I feel the stirrings of new life in me. I get nostalgic for the past, and excited for the possibilities in the future.

I think of the holidays during this season as extensions of Christmas. Even the Christmas holiday itself is an extension of the Christmastime season. Thanksgiving and Halloween and New Year’s. And sometimes Valentine’s, St. Patrick’s Day, and Easter, depending on how long my Christmastime season lasts. Each of these holidays is a distinctive manifestation of one of the facets of Christmastime. Each attempts to capture a different species of joy and gratitude.

Halloween is a special one, because I feel that it’s so misunderstood. It’s really two holidays in one. The first — the one that gets all the attentions — is the celebration of wildness and abandon, symbolized through candy grabs, nighttime adventures, costumes and parties. This is the part of Halloween that celebrates fright, gore, and freakishness. This is the part that is presented in the costume warehouses that pop up around town this time of year.

But the other half of the holiday, the part that speaks to me, is the Halloween that celebrates inevitability, the littleness of human power and the vastness of our universe; of emptiness and death…and of its accompanying peace and tranquility.

For me, Isaiah 13 is to Halloween what Luke 2 is to Christmas: the scripture that captures the spirit of the holiday —–

19 And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.

20 It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation: neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there; neither shall the shepherds make their fold there.

21 But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there.

22 And the wild beasts of the islands shall cry in their desolate houses, and dragons in their pleasant palaces: and her time is near to come, and her days shall not be prolonged.

One of my favorite symbols for this part of Halloween is the spider and its cobwebs. Spiders aren’t part of Halloween because they are scary. They are part of Halloween because the represent the places where people are not. Cobwebs only exist in the places that we don’t frequent, in the forgotten nooks and in the derelict ruins. These are the places where people were, but not longer are. Isaiah uses the “doleful creatures” to the same effect: the owls and the satyrs, the wild beasts and the dragons.

If Isaiah 13 is Halloween’s Luke 2, then Halloween’s Clement Clarke Moore is Percy Bysshe Shelley. I’ll close this post, appropriately I believe, with his Ozymandias:

OZYMANDIAS

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert… Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear —
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.’

19 Responses to Halloween and the Extended Christmas Season

  1. James Olsen on October 8, 2011 at 3:57 am

    Pure glory Dane.

  2. Don on October 8, 2011 at 6:34 am

    I really enjoyed your take on this wonderful time. too many LDS we know won’t let their kids enjoy it at all. My wife loves to decorate for Halloween, we love the kids who come around, we love everything about it. If you really want to see people who get into this holiday, visit Pennsylvania!

  3. Dan on October 8, 2011 at 8:14 am

    i’ll watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Halloween, otherwise this is a worthless “holiday/celebration/whatever” for me.

  4. Sarah Familia on October 8, 2011 at 9:45 am

    Are you in Sacramento? I thought you were still up in Oregon. We’ll have to get together sometime!

  5. Raymond Takashi Swenson on October 8, 2011 at 10:56 am

    I have always thought it sad that after Christmas and New Years, we really don’t have any American holidays to enliven our cild days and long nights through the balance of the Seasonal Affective Disorder winter. Martin Luther King’s birthday might have been made an occasion for celebrating the brotherhood of our common humanity and equality, but it seems to be the ultimate nanny state remembrance, bringing up our past sins to reinforce our supposed status as victims or perpetrators, a Yom Kippur without the atonement, an Easter without the Resurrection. When the February birthdays of Washington and Lincoln were merged into the Monday holiday of Presidents Day, we lost the opportunity to have a grand patriotic occasion in the closing days of winter (when it would be a lot safer to shoot off fireworks) and the focus was taken off the two great men who helped create and then preserve a nation based on the proposition of government BY the people (ALL govrrnment is government OF the people).

    In Idaho Falls, where we lived from 2000 to 2008, the time between those winter “holidays” is when it gets to MINUS 20 degrees Fahrenheit for two weeks. We could have sure used some celebratory partying to warm up our days.

  6. Jack on October 8, 2011 at 11:10 am

    Awesome.

    You make it sound like a continuous cycle of rituals (Halloween thru Easter) that represent death, rebirth and everything in between. It’s like reading Nibley’s (and Rhodes) “One Eternal Round.” Cool.

  7. Dane Laverty on October 8, 2011 at 11:31 am

    Don, I know what you mean. I came down too hard on the “candy grab” in this post. As a kid, trick-or-treating was a very special occasion for me. I loved getting dressed up, I loved getting to go out with my friends around the neighborhood at night, and I loved dividing candy up with my brother afterwards. You know, Halloween is really the only community holiday we have left, the only one where you can reach out to strangers uninvited and be received. (Well, there’s Christmas caroling too.)

    The only kids I knew who didn’t celebrate Halloween were the ones raised in fundamentalist conservative Christian homes — the same ones that find the devil in Harry Potter or think that Dungeons & Dragons leads to Satan worship. Now it seems that Mormonism has imbibed enough of that doctrine that I’m seeing many church member families who believe that it’s inappropriate to do anything other than the ward “Trunk-or-treat” on Halloween. :(

  8. Dane Laverty on October 8, 2011 at 11:43 am

    Ray, that’s the strangest description of Martin Luther King Jr. that I’ve ever seen, and I disagree entirely. Dr. King was the atonement for that holiday.

    Jack, thanks :) It’s my personal liturgical calendar.

  9. Alison Moore Smith on October 8, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    Dane, great post.

    Why would trunk-or-treat be OK but not trick-or-treat? Unless it’s an issue of safety or something?

    We love Halloween. Dressing up is the best.

    P.S. on caroling. We just got back from the BYU homecoming parade (my oldest daughter is on the ballroom team and was dancing in it). Got a flier advertising Carollama. Christmas caroling with live llamas. I don’t know how well they will be received by strangers, but my daughter, Alana (who is a singer and whose nickkname is Lllama) could not be more excited.

  10. Melissa B. on October 8, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    We trunk-or-treat and trick-or-treat. Both is best! :)

    Nice post. Personally, I love Halloween. I always though it interesting that trick-or-treating originated from All Souls’ Day where poor people would go door to door begging for food and in exchange would pray for the dead. Now at Halloween, my thoughts turn to my ancestors and loved ones who have passed. I think Halloween is what you make it. It can be evil if you choose to look at it that way.

  11. NewlyHousewife on October 8, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    Alison,

    The kids I grew up with that only participated in trunk-or-treat had parents who believed one shouldn’t associate with nonmembers due to the temptation of sin. Apparently the ward pervert can be trusted, but the 90 year-old grandfather of 15 next door cannot.

  12. Kristine on October 8, 2011 at 9:26 pm

    Dane, this is great. I’ve always loved All Saints’ Day, but had a hard time working up any enthusiasm for Halloween. Thanks for giving me a new way to see it.

  13. Jax on October 8, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    I guess I’m and anti-Dane… Christmas season for me starts 3 or 4 days before Christmas and ends when I fall asleep that night. I love Christ and serve Him the best I can, but I HATE Christmas in the US. I don’t like the decorations, the presents, the songs, the ugly sweaters… I love the excitement it creates in my kids, and I love the opportunity it gives to to teach them about Him, but on the whole, I could do without it.

  14. Dane Laverty on October 8, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    Jax, thanks for maintaining balance in the universe. I love the presents and the songs :) Don’t think I ever got a sweater, ugly or otherwise.

  15. Jax on October 9, 2011 at 7:10 am

    After a nights thought, I decided i don’t HATE Christmas, because I do enjoy Christmas parties a few days beforehand, including the annual Christmas Eve party with extended family. I just hate that it has already started… Long before Halloween or Thanksgiving are over I see Christmas displays in stores and see adds for their big sales. I’ve seen them as early as June!

    And it’s not that I hate the presents as much as I hate the feeling of being obligated to go purchase some for people who I don’t talk to for the rest of the year and recieving them from them as well… I don’t like people who obviously don’t care that much about me or my goingson to feel that they need to spend money on me to save face, or that doing so will maintain an otherwise illusionary friendship. I love seeing my kids GIVE gifts that are heartfelt, usually represented by the fact they are handmade and/or took some thought and personal effort. Just wondering through a store looking for something random doesn’t fill me with holiday spirit.

    I’ll always hate ugly Christmas sweaters!

    And so I like to think of the holidays separately to not lose the significance of each one. Obviously there wouldn’t be a reason to celebrate Easter if we weren’t celebrating Christmas as well… and I think about that both of those times as well, but each event carries its own special significance.

    Adding Halloween to the list is a stretch for me. I was never taught as a youth about how it could be spiritually relevant and what importance it had. I’ve never heard anyone (GA, school teacher, ward member, TV personality) talk about any cultural or historical significance for Halloween either. It’s aways just been a party, a reason to get out a meet people, and opportunity for free candy (as a kid), or a reason to waste money on it (as an adult). I’m not saying it shouldn’t be thought of with significance, just that it has none for me and I find it a stretch of reason to try to assign it some. IMHO.

  16. Kent Larsen on October 9, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    Jax, community is the answer to why we should celebrate Halloween. Most holidays are accidents of history, their celebrations developed over years to meet the community’s needs and the elements of the celebration often claimed as symbols of some important truth well after their adoption or inclusion. In that sense, holidays are always artificial. What is important in them is what they say about us and our communities. Participating in them says that we are a part of the community.

    This is, I think, the error made by those who reject Halloween. They look too much at the surface symbols of the holiday and ignore completely the concrete effects on community: the fact that most participate, that they participate together and that a sense of unity comes from it.

  17. Jax on October 9, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    I don’t reject Halloween. I like the partying and meeting people. I just don’t see it as religious in any way – nor do I see it as anti-religious. It’s just a cultural thing for me, not related to religion at all.

  18. Sam Brunson on October 9, 2011 at 7:40 pm

    I adore Halloween—our Halloween season runs the whole of October. (Yesterday, we went on a Halloween-themed hike. Next Saturday, Dan Zanes, then the next the Midnight Circus, then the weekend itself.)

    It helps to live somewhere that celebrates Halloween well. New York is spectacular, and so is Chicago. Like Kent said, where the community gets into it, it really brings the community together.

  19. Chadwick on October 11, 2011 at 11:54 pm

    My father despises Halloween but somehow me and all my siblings shunned that and rather like it! Good clean fun! I’ve yet to be possessed by anything demonic by dressing my kids up like dinosaurs.

    We are leaving Bangalore on the 31st and so I’m trying to make up some sort of Halloween at the office before I leave since the kids will miss out because I forgot when I booked the plane tickets and we will spend the whole day flying. I feel bad I messed this one up.

    I noticed the past few years, though, that Halloween is dying. It seems a lot of kids I know think walking around town in the cold is a waste of time when there is a pantry full of candy at home. Not having a pantry full of candy at home growing up, Halloween was it! But I guess times they are a changing.

    I’m wondering why some people like Jax thinks Halloween needs to have meaning to be a valid holiday? Since I have no kids that are old enough for camp, I find no meaning in the annual ward pie sale to raise money for those kids. But I still go because it’s fun. Why can’t that be enough? Being a boring tax accountant, I crave fun every now and again.