Frost on the Pumpkin

SUBHEAD: Halloween is the end of the warm times and the beginning of the cold. The harvest is in. Let's hope it is enough.

By Juan Wilson on 28 October 2010 for Island Breath -

Image above: Frost on the pumpkins. From (  

Halloween is upon us. A time of ghosts, witches and pumpkins. Celebrating it is an ancient tradition in our culture reaching back before Christianity to the ancient Celts and later Gaelic traditions. Why does it seem to increasingly be important to us in the 21st century? It may have to do with a rejection of western Christian morality (Evangelical Fundamentalism) and a sense of anxiety about our economic future (Peak Oil, End of Suburbia,etc.). I know that’s a stretch so some background is required.  

The Earth and Sun
The annual course of the Earth around the Sun is easily divided into four quarters. These four seasons are divided at the solstices and the equinoxes. The winter solstice in December is the shortest day of the year, the Spring Equinox in March is when days and nights are of equal length, the Summer Solstice in June is the longest day, and then the day and night are equal again at Fall Equinox in September.

These dates are universally considered the beginnings of our four seasons, but they do not represent the epitome of each season. That is why the cross-quarter dates were important to those who watched the seasons for their survival. The cross-quarter dates were that halfway points in each season. Halloween is one of those cross-quarter dates - the Peak of Fall.

The Celts celebrated Halloween by the name Samhain. It falls midway between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice and traditionally was celebrated over several days beginning on November 1st. Samhain, to the Celts, marked the end of the harvest, the end of the "lighter half" of the year and beginning of the "darker half".

Many scholars believe that it was the beginning of the Celtic year. Traditionally, Samhain was time to take stock of the herds and grain supplies, and decide which animals would need to be slaughtered in order for the people and livestock to survive the winter. The Christian's set the same time of year for their holy days Halloween (All Hallow's Eve) or All Souls Day and All Saint's Day on November 1st.

On the wheel of the year it was opposite May Day, which was the midpoint between the spring equinox and summer solstice. In ancient tradition May Day was called Beltane and it represented the epitome of Spring and the resurgence of life. If baby lambs and clover characterized May Day, then slaughtered cattle and cut grain characterized Samhain. Samhain was also a time to experience the ghosts of ancestors. Samhain was also the time that the work in the fields ended and the season of feasting was just beginning.

The times of plenty were at their peak and would last through to about Christmas (winter solstice). After that would come the leaner time and even starvation, if the larder did not last past the spring equinox and to re-greening of the fields. As the frost came on the pumpkin and the nights grew colder our forefathers looked ahead to the long winter through which they would have to survive.  

Modern Halloween
The great popularity of the modern Halloween celebration goes back less than generation. Before that in small town America, and especially since the fifties, when the suburbs were rolling out across America, Halloween was for kids. Then it was safe and easy to go door-to-door Trick-Or-Treating, without a thought of needing a parental chaperone.

In the rural farmland and in the cities Halloween was no big deal. It was not until the mid 1990’s that I began to see suburban neighbors outdoing one another to drape their houses with spray-on cobwebs and giant plastic spiders or hanging the tree in the front yard with cutouts of black cats and witches.

What had merely been a pumpkin on the porch was morphing into a competitor with Yuletide ostentation. On the retail front this coincided with moving the start-off of massive Christmas buying season from Thanksgiving Day to Halloween. You know that if the marketing people were getting involved, something was afoot. Halloween has remained popular with youngsters. In fact, it now rivals Christmas in popularity with children.

Where the real growth of new Halloween recruits comes from is adults. Part of the attraction is that there is no need to tow-the-line or be a goody-two-shoes on Halloween (unless that’s your costume character). You can be anybody you want to be, including your true self. It is at the same time when you can publicly touch on the dark side (that is discouraged at all other times), and, paradoxically, hide one’s true self behind a mask. For two millennia Christians co-opted pagan holidays like Christmas and Halloween and Easter.

But recently elements of the Christian community now wish they had left Halloween to the few remaining Druids still practicing, and not marked the date on their calendar. Much of apple-pie, football-fan, soccer-mom, SUV-drivin Christians are in the suburbs and are getting a whiff of the smoke. Suburbia isn't working.

Image above: Zombie Walk in October 2009 at a Shreveport, Louisiana mall. From (

The organization Christian Answers asks whether Christians should celebrate Halloween? ( The short answer is No!
“The October 31st holiday that we today know as Halloween has strong roots in paganism and is closely connected with worship of the Enemy of this world, Satan... Have you noticed how costumes and masks are getting generally more bloody, gory, and depraved each year? Unfortunately, the gruesome and grotesque and the occult are increasingly glorified in American society, not only on Halloween, but throughout the year in horror movies and in television programs... What about church “Harvest Festivals” held on October 31? Although we understand the rational and good intentions behind them, we don't think they are the best approach... Harvest parties tend to assume that "our children need something to take the place of Halloween, since they won't be participating in the secular and pagan celebrations. It suggests our kids are missing out on something. And indeed they are, if we allow them to spend Halloween in celebration." There are better things to do on Halloween than partying.”
So Christians believe that Halloween, and Paganism, represent evil. In reality, Paganism revolved around the worship of nature. It's holidays, including Halloween, were the celebrations of the turning of the seasons. This wheel of the year was a metaphor for life--birth, youth, maturity, death, and rebirth.

 Scary Times - Good Times
We live in a time when works of fiction like the Twilight and Harry Potter series take on the role of filling the spiritual needs of adolescents. A time when zombie-flash-mobs appear at the food-court of the local Galleria Mall. Many are accepting the lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual (LGBT) social issue as a civil rights issue. This issue is redefining sexuality, identity and family. It is not without reason that traditionalists worry.

 All of these phenomena point to a change in our identities, or sense of self. Scary to some, welcome to others. A few are beginning to embrace the idea that the Good-Old-Days won’t be coming back... and that’s okay... they really were not so good. The suburbs, the growing tip of America is stalled and we are about to find out what comes next.

As Americans come to grips with Peak Oil and Climate Change, we are beginning to realize that we are at the peak of our material abundance, to be followed by darker times. The Great Recession we are in now is leading to something new and unknown.

We are metaphorically at the time of Halloween; peak harvest with feasts and celebration, followed by the waning of the year and the dead of winter. Let us hope that we have stocked our larder well and that the winter is kind. Happy Halloween!

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Autumnal Equinox 2010 9/22/10
The Gobbler: Festival of Samhain 10/31/98 .

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