I remember when Hallowe'en was fun.
At my father's memorial in July, the guests included a woman I'd literally grown up with from babyhood -- we were born a few months apart, our families lived a few doors away from each other, our mothers were both friends through theatre and our dads were both TV producers. Naturally, we played together a lot. At the memorial, one of the recurring things mentioned was the photo of the two of us on Hallowe'en, 1958: Drew dressed as a bunny; Debra as a clown.
Over the years, my Hallowe'en costumes were along those lines: a hockey player, a clown, Tiny Tim (the singer - complete with ukulele), a Roman soldier (using a costume left over from a play mom directed that was set in ancient Rome), a duck-billed platypus (don't ask) ... my kids' costumes followed along those lines: Aidan as Robin Hood or Elvis Presley, Hannah as an angel, a princess, Snow White ... you get the picture.
In other words, the true meaning of Hallowe'en was more than somewhat obscured by the "fun" aspect: kids dressing up, going door-to-door, getting candies, then going to a neighbour's place for fireworks and hot chocolate.
But over the past decade or so, the tone of Hallowe'en has changed. Now, it's all about death and evil spirits and fright and foreboding -- probably the "true meaning of Hallowe'en", and in a reversal of Charlie Brown at Christmastime, who got depressed because he couldn't find what the True Meaning of Christmas was about, seeing the "true meaning of Hallowe'en" is depressing the heck out of me.
And signs are all about, saying, "Happy Hallowe'en".
REALLY? "Happy" Hallowe'en?
OK. Now I'm offended. Why? Because the same people who fatuously wish us that -- including retailers, broadcasters and public officials -- cannot spit out the words "Merry Christmas" for fear it will offend someone who might not subscribe to the point of view that the birth of the Saviour of Mankind is a happy occasion. Why is it politically correct to wish someone a happy time of celebrating evil and the dark side but not to ...... okay, I think the point is made.
As this is the kickoff to the shopping season for the Holiday That Dares Not Speak Its Name, I thought I'd bring back a portion of a posting I did in 2009, about the confusion that comes when you have a holiday season that appears to be all icing and no cake. Imagine, if you will, a non-Christian immigrant, trying to decipher what the fuss is about.
"Excuse me? What is this holiday that people are talking about?"
"Oh! It's the most wonderful time of the year! It's a time when people get together and give each other presents and have a huge dinner and give a little something to the poor and families re-connect -- or try to -- and all the lights and colors and prezzies make you feel warm inside."
"Why? I mean, what's there to celebrate?"
"Well, because it's the holidays!"
"What holiday? I mean, doesn't 'holiday' mean 'holy day'? What's holy about it?"
"Well ... if you must know ... it's called Christmas ... and, uh, there's a particular religion that celebrates it."
"So why don't you call it that?"
"Because we're afraid 'Christmas' might offend some people."
"How can you offend someone with something that you're celebrating? What does this religion believe that's so offensive?"
"Well ... they believe that the way to peace is to get right with God."
"And that's offensive?"
"Well ... they figure that there's only one way to do that, and that's through the Son of God."
"And the Son of God is really bad, is He? What did He teach?"
"Well ... He said that we have to love God above everything else -- even above ourselves."
"I'm waiting to be offended ..."
"And we have to love everybody else more than ourselves."
"Still waiting ..."
"Yeah, but the Son of God also said that we have to deal with the things we did wrong in our lives."
"Oh! Wow ... I've done a lot of things wrong. So I guess He went around and killed all the bad people, did He?"
"Heck, no! This religion says He never did anything wrong and then let Himself die to be the punishment for our wrongs. Even the bad people could turn to Him, and it would be like they'd never done those bad things."
"Why keep this a secret? Why not tell everyone you can?"
"Because people might get offended."
"Well ... you know ... people from other countries ... other religions."
"Look: in my religion, we say 'peace to you and your household'. Would you be offended if I said that to you?"
"Well ... no."
"Then why would I be offended if you said to me, 'Merry Christmas'?"
"Is there some high priest I can talk to, to find out more?"
"Not necessarily. There's a book called the Bible and that tells you the whole story so you can find out for yourself. Some people say it's like God speaking directly to you."
"Has this been on Oprah?"
"Don't be silly. That might hurt her ratings."
"Because people might be offended."
At which point, our immigrant friend either runs off, strumming his lower lip and making a noise like Lou Costello, trying to figure out who's on first, or races out to the nearest bookstore to try to find the book this local person was talking about.
"Where are you going? Don't you want to hear about Boxing Week?"
My office is adjacent to one of the biggest shopping malls in Western Canada. Soon, it will be filled with people of all different ethnicities, wading through the mall with children in tow. Happy-sounding music tells us Santa will be comin' down the chimney down and then tells the story of a reindeer nobody liked until he turned out to be useful for something. Children are often bawling their eyes out because they can't have something -- even though they know they're supposed to be excited about the Day Of The Great Gift-Getting while the parents have this bewildered look at what appears to be a tradition in this new country they've come to live in, but which doesn't appear to have a name or a purpose.