Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Traditional Rustic Halloween versus Commercialism

I confess that I enjoy the commercialism of my favorite holiday.  Walking into Target or Wal Mart or the drug store and seeing the cheery orange and black colors of consumerism operating as it should makes me happy.  On the one hand it represents commerce operating as it should (although I confess I am inclined to desire far more free market than this nation allows) and on the other hand it is a shared experience.

A shared experience is what Halloween is supposed to be about.

More than the other post-Summer holidays (e.g. Thanksgiving, Christmas) Halloween is about community and shared experiences.  The door-to-door trick or treating, the pranking, the decorations that are seen primarily on the outside of the house, rather than the indoor tree of Christmas; all of this is a spirit of community that is all too often lacking in a modern world that no longer seriously entertains the notion of a magical world.  Thus when I see something commercialized it means that it is perceived as an investment from which a return can be realized.  Thus it has value.  When I walked product bedecked aisles I feel a part of a larger community of fellow celebrants.

No offense to Wiccans, but too often the reverence for the neo-pagan aspects of it become dull.  I want a plastic skull, dammit.

When I was a child this shared experience was found in television.  All the stations, especially local affiliates, showed horror movies, Halloween specials, and there were Halloween episodes of your favorite shows.  A shared experience, not a selfish experience.

This year, perhaps due to a poor economy, the commercialism is less for this greatest of harvest festivals.  Samhain truly is the Summer's End and with it any economic booms from tourist dollars.  So perhaps it is time to return to the homespun, rustic origins of Halloween.  Decorate your domicile with creativity and tissue paper.  Cut out posterboard ghouls and goblins and sift through the old threads to find duds for a new scarecrow.  As long as we celebrate as a community and make the sacrifice to pay that little extra to get quality candy for the kiddies at our doors, perhaps the shared experience will retake the holiday.  This year, I resolve to NOT let the poor commercial showing bring me down.  I think it is time to return to the rustic Halloween of old, soul cakes, toffee apples and bonfires for the people!

The Horror of Poor Scholarship

The English settled Jamestown, in what is now Virginia, in 1607.  Jamestown is the oldest, continuous, English colony in the United States of America.
In 1620 the Pilgrim Fathers, founded Plymouth in what is currently Massachusetts.

There is a sad and unfortunate tendency in this country to tell the history of the nation from the perspective of a small handful of religious radicals, vice doing so from a whole nation perspective.  Modern historians, professional and amateur, seem unable to tell the story of America from any perspective save that of the Plymouth puritans.  "Historical" Halloween origins are not spared this egregious oversight.  Too often some erroneous but, perhaps, well-meaning scholar will write, with perfect conviction, that Halloween was not popular in America because the Pilgrim Fathers or Massachusetts Puritans did not approve of, or celebrate it.  These same scholars will simply gloss over or fail to mention that Virginia Colony even existed.
This is unacceptable.

Virginia gained the nickname "The Old Dominion" due to its loyalty to the crown during the English Civil War.  The English Civil War was fought between the Crown and Puritans...who colonized Plymouth.  It is reasonable then to conclude there was a cultural divide between the Virginia and New England colonies.  Immigration patterns also show that Virginia was colonized by a variety peoples while Plymouth was a unified, socially cohesive unit.

The point to be made here is that Virginia celebrated the holidays of the homeland.  Virginia and Virginians wore the clothing of their homeland, ate the foods of the homeland and thought of themselves as part of the homeland. The draconian dictates and disinterests of a handful of Puritans did not stop early Americans, for certainly the Virginians were, from celebrating Church of England holidays, cultural holidays, or holding harvest festivals, complete with divination and rituals.  It is a case of poor scholarship that causes historians, professional and amateur, to continue perpetuating the myths of Halloween in America.

I encourage individual research on this topic for any interested in the origins and customs of this most fascinating and regionally specific holiday.

Happy Hallowe'en.