Halloween, in some ways, is the unofficial kick-off of the holiday season. This was made clear to me when someone recently played the song “Soul Cake” in the context of Halloween. I’d only ever heard the song in a Christmas context before, and a little research led to the discovery that asking for soul cakes originated as a Halloween custom (before it was called Halloween, even) but was considered appropriate anywhere from All Hallows through the twelve days of Christmas. The common thread here is, of course, gift giving. We tend to keep our holidays discrete for commercial reasons but there is a natural continuity from All Hallows Eve through what used to be known as Epiphany (now Insurrection Day).
Holidays help us prepare for things that we know are coming. For the Celts, Samhain—which led to our Halloween—was the start of winter. With no Daylight Saving Time to oppress them with the changing of their clocks and throwing everything off for weeks at a time, this was the dark part of the year. Holidays are helpful in getting through times when natural light is lacking. From Halloween you can almost see Thanksgiving. At Thanksgiving we anticipate Christmas. The winter solstice holidays see us through the shortest, darkest days of the year. I’m no fan of capitalism, but as long as we’re stuck with it I wonder why we don’t advocate for Halloween as an official holiday. The start of the holiday season. In my local town the Christmas lights went up on November 1.
East and south Asian religions spend considerable energy teaching that change is the only permanent aspect of life. Western cultures, on the other hand, focus on the status quo, the assumption that once something is established, it will, or should, remain as it is. Time reminds us that change is constant. We can allow entropy to win by sitting by and letting things fall apart, or we can try to build something useful to prevent a collapse. Holidays change over time and over religions. Halloween was a pre-Christian new year celebration. From there it changed into a solemn holy day to remember saints and then the dead. Incorporating aspects of Samhain and some customs such as soul cake begging and guising, it grew to a more fun celebration. Now it’s a commercial occasion to rival Christmas. The year is constantly changing. Just when I start looking for my sweaters I see my light summer clothes haven’t yet been put away. I look forward to Halloween as the start of the holiday season until we get past the longest night just before Yule.