We all need bonfires

Okay, so the photograph doesn’t show a bonfire.  Just shows I didn’t plan this before *last* Bonfire Night!

Thursday 5th November: Bonfire Night in the
UK.  I’m hesitant about trying to
describe this seasonal event to anyone unfamiliar with the concept because
having once tried to explain it to two New York shop assistants, I’ve become
extremely aware of what a crazy celebration it is: we light bonfires and set
off fireworks to commemorate the foiling of a 1605 plot by some Catholic men to
blow up the Protestant Houses of Parliament.
Sometimes we even burn an effigy of the plot’s ringleader, Guy Fawkes.  

It’s a strange tradition; pretty gruesome and distasteful
when you think about it in the context of twenty-first century terrorism.  It also seems to be on the wane somewhat,
pushed out by an increasing emphasis on Hallowe’en.  Yet part of me still hankers after a good
Bonfire Night get-together (this year I’m happily attending two, one on Friday
and one on Saturday – like other festivals that fall on weekdays, it gets stretched
to the nearest weekend).  I suspect that
its continuation over the years, and the reason that people still enjoy it, is
less to do with the political background and more because it fulfils some of
our deepest needs in the same way that Hallowe’en does (for more on that, see here).  It’s an excuse, a prompt, to spend time with
friends and family.  Little traditions
associated with the fire-and-fireworks element (largely food related: jacket
potatoes, toffee apples, cinder toffee) support an atmosphere of warmth,
conviviality and ritual.  We remember
these nights fondly from when we were children and want to share that sense of
joy and wonder with our own children too.

There is something quite magical about the occasion.  You huddle up in coats and scarves and
gloves, trying to keep warm through liquor or a loved one, and ‘Ooo!’ and ‘Aah!’
at the fireworks.  You write your name
mid-air with a sparkler and watch as that word, those letters so integral to
your identity, evaporate without a trace.
You stand beside the bonfire, chatting merrily to a friend, then find
yourself gazing at the flames, transported through memories of all the times
you’ve stood there before, perhaps in a different place, but still simply staring
at the fire.  

There’s something so mesmerising about the way it licks and
curls, rages and burns.  Fires draw us
closer, attracts us nearer, but also keep us away, fearful of their fierce
power.  We relate to them on a primeval
level, as our ancient ancestors must have done when their very survival
depended upon them, yet we live lives so far removed from them as a
source.  Nowadays we are as likely to
encounter fire in negative ways, such as when they tear through our homes or
land, than we are the positive – the gathering together in a small circle,
sharing its light and heat.

Where would you like to start a fire in your life?  Where could you use the power of its flames?  

Maybe you crave the communion of bringing those closest to
you in a coven around the hearth.

Maybe you need to set alight your passion, to strike a match
and let it take hold.  

Maybe you need a bonfire to burn some detritus in your
psychic garden, letting it drift in plumes of smoke up to the sky and
beyond.  

Fire has the power and the potential to help us secure
whatever it is that we need most in our lives.
And if you can work it into a fire-fireworks-food combination, then even
better.  

Happy Bonfire Night to you all x

Please do share your reflections on this week’s theme,
including any pictures or thoughts about Bonfire Night specifically or fire in
general, either via the A
Life Of One’s Own Facebook page
or using the hashtag #fourthquarter2015 on
Instagram and/or Twitter.

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.