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:
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.’