It’s November 1st. We’ve pushed the clocks back to where the earth says they should be. Enough messing around with the parameters of daylight.
What was once All Saints’ Day to many—or All Hallows, or Hallowmas in Shakespeare’s lifetime, or Samhain in pre-Christian time—is for most of us here above the 49th parallel the beginning of a slow slide into dark and cold and days that get shorter and shorter till it seems like the sun shows up only long enough to prevent us from sleeping 24 hours a day.
That’s pretty much what the aftermath of Halloween is all about.
I went to check the pumpkin I carved yesterday afternoon. The big candle inside isn’t burning anymore. I don’t know what time it went out but I hope it lasted through most of the night.
Some people blow theirs out before retiring to their TV rooms once the trick-or-treating is over and the doorbell has gone silent. But I’ve never been able to.
Some people start decorating their places for Halloween weeks in advance. A few days ago, I watched a documentary called The American Scream, about three families in Fairhaven, Massachusetts who redefine what it means to get into the spirit of Halloween, and whose preparations for it consume them year-round.
It’s a sweet and memorable movie about four men, really : two dads and a father-son team. They’re basically Halloween geeks. It’s their speciality. They pour their hearts and souls into the making of a Halloween so big and over-the-top that it dwarfs their everyday lives. They do this for reasons that are deeply personal but that we intuitively understand and empathise with almost from the first frame.
They’re trying to create the brightest possible light in their darkness.
I thought of them this morning. I thought about what’s left of last night’s magic and mystery and goosebumps. The ghoul and ghost and witch decorations that swung in the breeze last night, lit by black light, look more ordinary and plasticky; and the singed pumpkins will soon be scavenged by squirrels and birds.
The men of The American Scream and their families will have to begin disassembling the spectacles of light, smoke and mirrors they created. Just like the rest of us.
I’ve always hated this : the aftermath. It’s the same with Christmas. When my sons were young, I made sure to take down the Christmas tree while they were asleep or else at school.
In a culture that has such an uncomfortable and fearful relationship with death, why do North Americans go so batshit crazy about Halloween (pardon the pun) ?
Why do people like the men in The American Scream—or like my sons and their friends who always dive into Halloween with such gusto and joy—go to such trouble?
It’s an interesting question. One of the cooler Montrealers (and frankly, there are lots of them), conductor Kent Nagano (well, we’ve adopted each other), who has been the musical director of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra since 2006, presented a series of three Halloween concerts with the MSO on October 29th and 30th. In an interview he gave to promote this event, Nagano reminisced about growing up on a farm in California, and about how Halloween meant putting on costumes and getting together to tell ghost stories and play together. For him, beyond the candy and the costumes, Halloween was and is about community.
This is true of the folks in Fairhaven, Massachusetts in The American Scream, and it’s certainly true of my family, friends and neighbours.
In the dark of night, our ancestors huddled around a flame for safety and the comfort of community, and it appears that we feel this need too. Usually, its just the light of a TV (or a lonely computer screen), but sometimes, it’s a more special kind of illumination from which each of us carries away a spark. To light us in the aftermath.