Forget Bah Pumpkin! Hallowe’en is just a handy excuse for life’s good stuff

And this amazing witch confections aren’t even one of those three reasons!

This week I’d like to offer you three reasons to love
Hallowe’en.

There are lots of reasons to not like it, I know.  Commercialisation, for one.  The shops have been full of Hallowe’en
merchandise and special offers for weeks, making the day seem like some kind of
weird kind of mini-Christmas based upon its worst aspect (in the same way that
Britain seems to be adopting the Black Friday tradition without the joys of
Thanksgiving).  There are also concerns
around crime and safety when you have lots of people disguised in masks
approaching others’ homes.  In the UK, some
also object to Hallowe’en on the grounds that it is a regarded as a US cultural
import that seems to usurping some home-grown, more traditionally British
seasonal occasions.

Okay, so there are three reasons to not like Hallowe’en and
I’m not going to deny or try to counteract any of them directly.  I used to share this kind of Hallowe’en
equivalent of ‘Bah Humbug’; let’s call it a ‘Bah Pumpkin’ attitude.  But no more!
I’m now the kind of person who not only owns some special Hallowe’en
earrings but is *really* excited at the prospect of wearing them and wondering
how soon is too soon to get them out.
Why the change?  Well here are the
three inter-related reasons why I’ve had a change of heart:

 1)     
Creativity

As the popularity of Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest best-seller,
Big Magic, demonstrates, creativity
is inherent to the human condition.  It
is not something exclusive to writers or designers or other arty types.  We all have the capacity to be creative and
when we give licence to that, it can be a hugely joyful and life-affirming
experience.  

From fancy dress costumes to decorating our homes,
Hallowe’en gives us the perfect excuse to indulge a playful approach to making
and creating.  It is an opportunity for
entering into the creative process without the pressure of a big occasion or
the need to produce award winning results.
Childish and silly and a bit wonky are par for the course.  And unlike say Christmas, where there is a
lot of other stuff going on too, at Hallowe’en the costumes and decoration are
a focal point; you don’t need to cook an amazing meal or deliver perfectly
wrapped gifts too.  You are free to play.

2)     
Friendship

We are about to enter the holiday season, with a whole host
of other occasions soon lining up in November and December.  So why on earth do we add another event to
the mix?  Surely we’d all be better
staying in this Saturday, saving our money and our energy for the crazy
festivities ahead?

Bah pumpkin to that!
Besides, who do you spend Hallowe’en with compared to the other
occasions?  Times like Thanksgiving and
Christmas are often about seeing family, which is grand, but there are often
other important people in our lives as well.
Hallowe’en is not only a chance to see them but also to celebrate with
them in a way that everyday life doesn’t provide much scope for.  Who hosts a party for no reason?  No-one.
We might throw the odd birthday bash or a housewarming or new year
shindig, but probably not regularly.
Hallowe’en presents another opportunity, again one with less pressure
than the big red letter days, to have fun and celebrate with others.  One could choose to have a party on 15th
October or 10th November instead, one without skeletons and spiders
and spookiness.  But generally we
don’t.  Hallowe’en gives us a prompt, a
purpose, even if that is just a convenient excuse for something that would be
pretty awesome to do anyway: get together with people we love and have fun.

3)     
Community feel

Most of our holidays and celebrations are private affairs,
taking pace with a select group of family and friends.  As our societies have become more diverse and
more fragmented, many communal traditions, such as gathering in public spaces
for carol singing, have died off.  But we
haven’t lost the basic human need for community.  Hallowe’en again offers a great opportunity
in this respect.  As a secular event,
divorced from its religious origins, it lacks the boundaries of exclusion.  It also encourages engagement with other
people.  As well as the parties, the
other obvious example of this is trick-or-treating: when else do children get
to interact with neighbours in their community?
(Anything that supports connection across generations is good in my
book).  Even adding a bit of Hallowe’en
decoration goes some way towards the same effect; walking down my road earlier
this week, I noticed pumpkins on a few doorsteps and in doing so I felt
immediately more connected with those households – as if by placing these items
outside their entrances they were signalling their desire to participate in a
chance for community too.  Sometimes this
goes large scale.  A friend always takes
her children trick-or-treating down a nearby street because, in her words,
‘they all really go to town’ with Hallowe’en stuff.  In doing so, the residents are forging a
special moment for themselves, a break from ordinary time and ordinary life,
creating a community spirit that others want to be part, fulfilling our oft
thwarted human desire to connect with others around us.  

This year, I’ll be going with my friend: funny costume, her
and the children’s company, seeing this street where ‘they all really go to
town’ – what more could I want?  Why
would I refuse an excuse for creativity, friendship and community?

What do you think?
What aspect of Hallowe’en would you like to seize upon and
encourage?  Could you use some more
creativity, friendship and community?  

Is there anything else I could add to that list?  I’ve been wondering whether to include ‘fun’
as a separate item but figured it featured in the other three.  No doubt there are other things too, both
good and not so great.

Don’t forget to share your reflections on this week’s theme,
including any pictures or thoughts about your Hallowe’en, either via the A Life Of One’s Own
Facebook page
or using the hashtag #fourthquarter2015 on Instagram and/or
Twitter.

Week 3: Life. Death. Nature.

image

Are you still spotting the signs of autumn that we looked
out for in Week One?  It’s pretty hard to
not notice, whether it’s the pleasant stuff such as pavements strewn with
conker shells and acorns or the less pleasing aspects like the encroaching dark
nights.  Nature and the changing seasons
throw it all at us, often at the same time: things we think of as positive and
those we label as negative.  We can’t
have one without the other.  Those
gorgeous crisp starry nights also mean cold and frosty mornings.  There is the riot of glorious technicolour as
the leaves turn and then fall.  And on my
word, how good are they at the minute?
Talk about going down in a blaze of glory.  Some trees are so beautiful at the minute
that remembering to breathe – or keep my eyes on the road as I drive past – is difficult.  This spectacle is soon is followed by the
sludgy mulch of decaying foliage on the paths, treacherous and icky – and if
you live in the UK, also the cause of annual ‘leaves on the line’ train travel
disruption (really this is a thing in Britain.
I’m not kidding).  Then the trees
stand bare and brown through the dark cold months when we would welcome a blast
of colour and joy.

This is the paradox of nature.  Life and death intertwined…and inevitable.  The two ultimate opposites, coexistent and
concurrent.  Life and death are constant
themes in nature but never are they more visible to us than at this time of
year, when the trees, fields and hedgerows offer us their bounty and their
beauty for a fleeting moment before apparent dormancy takes hold.  In a few weeks, it will be hard to imagine
the lushness of autumn was ever with us.
At times it may even seem hard to believe, to trust, that life will ever
flourish again.

We can’t cling on to all that we are enjoying about the
season right now any more than we can turn the world on its axis to avoid
darker nights and colder days.  Wishing
it were otherwise can be tempting but is ultimately frustrating and certainly
futile.  But we can learn, slowly perhaps
at first, to accept the turning of the year just as we accept the rising and
setting of the sun.  They are the rhythms
of life, and those of death too.

Not clinging does not mean, however, that we can’t
celebrate.  Let us enjoy this blaze of
glory for those precious moments that it is with us.  It will be gone soon, which is all the more
reason to embrace and enjoy it now rather than simply skipping to mourn for
what will follow.  The crown of autumn
may be fleeting but perhaps that is part of the challenge, part of the allure –
it makes us present to this very moment, these very weeks.  We have to be present centred, not day
dreaming about our summer holidays or worrying about the festive season ahead –
the past and future are merely distractions that rob us of the jewels we
possess right now.  Here.  In this place.  In this moment.

Gather these jewels whilst you can.  Start a nature table, create an altar, give
over a shelf to celebrate and recognise autumn whilst she is with us.  It doesn’t have to be big; I love the little
collection gathered in a bowl, as pictured, which a child put together during a
garden working party I attended last Saturday.  Simply pick up tokens that catch your eye.  Conkers, acorns and leaves are the obvious examples, but there is really no limit.  The adventurous (and suitable knowledgeable) amongst us could forage for all edible items.  Or if you can’t get out into nature, how about bringing to you by searching your books & the online world for evocative descriptions or amazing images?  And please do share your collections, your creations, your responses, either on the A Life Of One’s Own Facebook page or using the hashtag #fourthquarter2015 on Twitter or Instagram.  I’ll be adding further thoughts and (hopefully!) inspiration through those streams across the week ahead.  I’d love you to share with us too.

Worship the amazingness that is the natural world in autumn.  Be in awe of what is happening around us
right now, because before we know it, it will be gone – as surely as day is
followed by night, and life is followed by death.

Harvest-home

A random assortment of tinned food in a painted wheelbarrow
can only mean one thing: it’s harvest festival time.  Like Proust’s Madeleines, for me harvest
festivals come laden with nostalgia.
Growing up I always loved these events: the dappled evening light on the
display of produce; the smell of bracken filling the room; counting the copper pennies
to see if I had enough to buy the can of crème caramel dessert in the sale of
goods afterwards (I’d have gone for the giant loaf of bread baked to look like
a wheatsheaf but my mum said it was only decorative, not to be eaten, so what
was the point of that?!).

Perhaps most evocative is the phrase ‘harvest-home’.  As a child, it intrigued me. What did it
mean?  And why did my eyes well up every
time I uttered it?  I’d stand by my
grandmother singing non-conformist hymns about reaping and garnering and
bringing in the sheaves that I didn’t really understand but I liked the jaunty
and sometimes dramatic tunes (‘They shall rise up with wings…They shall rise up
with wings like ea…gles!’).  Then there
would be a line such as ‘Raise the song of harvest-home’ and I’d unwittingly
respond: a chill down my spine, a flush to my cheeks, tears in my eyes.  I could never figure out why.

Twenty-odd years later, I’m still not sure.  According to the Oxford Dictionary,
‘harvest-home’ is ‘the gathering in of the final part of the year’s harvest’ or
‘a festival marking the end of the harvest period’.  These definitions seem well and good, but
they don’t explain why the phrase evoked such a strong visceral reaction in me
– and continues to do so today.  

The saying ‘harvest-home’ touches a deep part of me,
somewhere beyond logic and reasoning and rationale.  It reaches down into a place of knowing, a
place where understanding isn’t about words and explanations but experience and
connection.  It also reaches out, out
across time and space, through centuries and surpassing borders, giving me the
sense of gratitude and reassurance that surely touched all those workers who
over the centuries felt relief when the harvest was safely home for that year.

Harvest-home tells me there is enough, there is plenty,
there is abundance.  Everything I need is
gathered and stored, available for me to access when I need to over the cold,
dark months ahead.  I don’t have to keep
working for it or striving after it; whatever nurtures me is now home.  I can rest.
There is enough.  

This isn’t necessarily a religious message, although it
could be interpreted that way.  For me, harvest
and its harvest-home culmination are not simply part of the natural cycle,
although that is important.  Their symbolism
goes beyond what they literally mean, representing much wider metaphors about
life.  From ripened hedgerows brimming
with berries to tinned food freely given to help those who need it most, collected
in a painted wheelbarrow, they speak to generosity and satiety and fulfilment.  Harvest-home reminds me that there is enough.  

In a world where we are endlessly encouraged to consume and
compare and continually crave more – always more – to recognise that there is
already enough is a radical move.  And my
call for this week is to do just that: spend the time recognising where there
is enough in your life, both literally and metaphorically.  From food in the fridge to petrol in the tank,
moments of connection with strangers to times of intimacy with those you love,
let’s sink into the enough-ness of our lives.
Let’s recognise when we have enough, then treasure it, celebrate it and
share it with one another.

Let’s raise the song of harvest-home.

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Life Of One’s Own
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