Tuesday, November 2, 2010

And now an abrupt change of direction...

There is a relationship between Halloween and Christmas not unlike the relationship enjoyed by the attractions The Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion in the minds of fans of Disney Parks.  While the two are not the same, they share elements and the fans have joined them together, even going so far as to weave the attractions together into a single story in fiction.
So too do some persons, myself included, put Halloween and Christmas together, with a brief stop at Thanksgiving, into a single convivial season.  My former mentor, the late Doctor Stephen Glosecki, once noted in an interview that Halloween marks the beginning of a season of the Earth 'dying' and entering into the dark, cold, winter months that will culminate in Christmas as the main event.  In this manner we can see Halloween and Christmas as constituents of a binary celebration, but one does wish to exclude Thanksgiving from the general festivities.
In America it seems that Thanksgiving marks the official beginning of the Christmas season.  This is not necessarily the appropriate behavior, but it has become the cultural norm and so must be accepted.  The main drawback to such behavior is the potential for Christmas burnout long before the actual event such that we feel glad to be done with it all rather than celebratory.

There are elements in common with the two holidays that I would like to explore as the days go along bringing us through the autumn and into the winter and I will in the pages of this blog.  To begin I will highlight some of the general points I will explore.

Both holidays feature specific traditional foods:
Halloween is tied to harvest imagery with pumpkins, corn, and candy, not to mention bobbing for apples, popcorn balls and soul cakes.  Christmas has loads of traditional foods depending upon the culture in question.  In America turkey and ham are traditional Christmas dinner choices, but many other foods are involved as well.

Both holidays have their sources in pre-Christian holy days that were co-opted by the Church as part of its expansion in days past.

Both holidays features ghosts, of a sort:
Halloween occurs at a period when the worlds of the living and the dead conjoin allowing passage between the two for spirits of all types.  Samhain, also marks the end of Summer and the beginning of the dead time of year.
Christmas features the evergreen, holly and mistletoe, to symbolize eternal life through the dead time.  Dickens gave us a story that was, effectively, a ghost story for Christmas.  Figures like the Krampas, Black Peter, and Father Christmas further add a spooky, sometimes frightening, but always 'spirited' aspect to Christmas.

Both holidays help us to strengthen our spiritual/mental resolve in the often depressing dark times of the wheel of the year:
Revelries of all kinds help humans to survive in a somewhat healthy mental state when faced with the long nights, short days, and cold, dead atmosphere of the winter months.  Halloween gets us out of our homes and into churches, community centers and our neighbor's homes to share in a mutual laugh in the face of fear.  Christmas too brings us out of our homes before the truly cold, dead of winter, when the snows come and we huddle in our homes for warmth.  The jovial nature of Christmas brings us out into the streets to shop, out and into neighborhoods to view the lights decorating businesses and homes, and into the homes of our friends and family members for dinners and parties.  Thanksgiving and Christmas are two holidays when we commonly travel, sometimes great distances, to spend time with our families celebrating with feasting and gift giving.

As the season progresses toward the big day I want to explore various aspects of the Christmas season (or Yule if you prefer) as it is a holiday I enjoy very much for many reasons.  Do stick around, if you will.  And remember, keep your Yule Log lit.


  1. You hit the nail on the head with holiday burnout. We've had to make a conscious resolve to not try to do everything that we think we're supposed to do. We don't travel at holiday time, we don't host family reunions, nor do we shop for the "must have" item for our children. We keep it low key, cook a smaller meal, visit family during the long stretches between holidays and generally have a better, more memorable time of it now.

    It's terrible to dread the holidays. Movies, tv and family expectations tend to weigh heavily on those of us who don't live within an hours drive of our families. In all of our years of living all over the east coast, we have never had a movie Christmas moment. If we have, I was too tired and shagged out from driving to notice it.

    I guess what I'm getting at is this - keep it simple. Cook a nice meal, share it with your household and close friends. Give more imaginative gifts or even money and a promise of a day out shopping when things are less crazy. Do things you are going to remember and cherish, not things that you remember in not-so-fond terms and dread doing it all the next year.

  2. Very well put indeed. In this time of economic woe for so many, perhaps you have the best of all solutions, which is to simply enjoy what you can without stressing the details.
    In the past leisure time was its own reward, given the 6 day work week of the common man. We sometimes forget that there is much joy to had in sitting on the sofa on a cold Thanksgiving morning, drinking a hot cuppa whatever floats your marshmallows and watching other people freeze their tits off for your amusement while trying to hold a giant Underdog balloon in line down the streets of New York City. And if a cheerleader falls off the pyramid on live telly that's just a bonus, innit?

  3. Gimmie a McRib, some fries and a shake every Friday from now til the New Year and that'll be holiday celebratin enough for me! LOL Oh well and a trek up to Williamsburg of course. You get brussel sprouts and that wretched thing you people call a fruit cake and that is your holiday this year :) Love you!