. . .
wherever else shall it dwell
. . .
We are grains of sand
dark with farewell
lost in births' secret treasure trove
around us already perhaps future moons, suns, and stars blaze in a fiery wreath
~ Nelly Sachs (translated by Ruth and Matthew Mead)
In California the holiday season begins with Halloween. Roughly in late August the first magazines start featuring Halloween crafts swiftly followed by drugstore and supermarket decorations, followed by the Dreaded Feast (aka Thanksgiving) and Yuletide trappings. Establishments take on an eerie Nightmare Before Christmas look. Halloween would serve California better as a national day than the Fourth of July. Certainly our spirit is more one of make-believe than independence.
Alas, Halloween’s European roots transformed into something uniquely American before finally transforming into something uniquely Californian. Spending on all aspects of Halloween, from costumes to candy, is up in 2011, with more money spent on adult costumes than children’s.
Californians celebrate with a special gusto. Several major amusement destinations turn into something unearthly for the occasion: Knott’s Berry Farm, the Queen Mary, Disneyland, and Universal Studios come immediately to mind. Of course Universal was the birthplace of the modern incarnations of Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, and the Mummy.
From South of the Border has wafted more than a touch of Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos. Contrary, however, to the writings and other inaccuracies of the Indigenistas such Mexican and Latin American customs owe much more to Catholic practices of All Souls’ Day than to the Aztecs—as any native of New Orleans, Quebec, or the rest of the Catholic world - where indigenous Mesoamericans - never trod can tell you. No taint of Catholicism affects East Asia’s religious customs, however, and although these festivals generally fall in late summer or early autumn, the Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival and the Japanese Obon are widely observed here. In areas with large numbers of these folk, there is a certain carry-over into the local Halloween observances.
Traditional customs aside, the synthetic faiths which are so much a part of our state’s heritage also give Halloween a special flavour. Most notably Wiccans, adherents of an age-old religion dating all the way back to the 1920s, observe Halloween as Samhain, a sort of Celtic New Year. The Key to the Moon Coven, for example, will honor their ancestors this year in scenic Chatsworth (better known as the center of the American pornographic film industry). Theosophists, too, see a special significance to Halloween. California is a haven for paranormal activity of all kinds, and innumerable ghost walks and haunted tours are offered during this season.
But just as there are killjoys who cannot quietly allow others to enjoy Christmas, Halloween allows similarly dull folk the chance to enjoy raining on the parade. From his desert stronghold, evangelist Jack Chick annually unleashes his tracts upon unwary trick-or-treaters. Numerous other evangelical preachers vociferate against the proceedings’ evil nature, allowing various atheists to prattle on about how stupid the Christians are. Each side is thus able to enjoy Halloween in their own way. It is truly a festival for everyone.
As a true, not native, Californian I will celebrate Halloween in an eclectic manner. Alas, my amusements tonight will not include the “Trick or Drink” game once so elegantly practised by my neighbors Bob and Arnold, but I will take time to remember friends and family.
Und doch, am Ende steht wieder das Licht, wenn auch noch so fern.