Of Ewes and Groundhogs

I need more time to prepare for Imbolc.  Or Groundhog Day, whichever you prefer.  Candlemas for you Catholic holdouts.  February 2 has the trappings of a major holiday, but it lacks the commercial potential.  Too many people are still working their way out from under Christmas overspending and tax season is just around the corner.  Still, I think it should be a national holiday.  My reasoning goes like this: since the pandemic our bosses now have our constant attention.  They’re in our bedrooms, our living rooms, our kitchens.  I see those midnight email time stamps!  We’re giving them a lot more time than we used to and seriously, can they not think about giving us a few more days off?  Some companies strictly limit holidays to ten.  

Can’t recall where I found this one…

Others, more progressive, have simply dropped the limits on paid time off.  And guess what?  The work still gets done.  I could use a day to curl up with a groundhog, or to go milk my ewes.  (Being a vegan, perhaps I could just pet them instead.)  What’s wrong with maybe two holidays a month?  (We don’t even average out to one per month, currently.)  I always look at that long stretch from March, April, and nearly all of May with some trepidation.  That’s an awful lot of “on” time.  (Our UK colleagues, of course, get Easter-related days and a variety of bank holidays.  Their bosses, I understand, would rather go with the more heartless American model, but tradition is tradition, you know.)  What if I see my shadow and get scared?  What am I to do then?

Imbolc is part of an old system for dividing the year into quarters that fall roughly half-way between equinoxes and solstices.  I go into this a bit in my book, The Wicker Man, due out in September.  That movie, of course, focuses on Beltane, or May Day, but the point is the same.  Look at what happens when you deny your people their holidays!  You’d think that the message that showing employees that you value them makes them more loyal might actually get through.  Businesses, however, have trouble thinking outside the box.  Take as much as you can and then ask for more.  What have they got to lose by giving out a few more holidays?  Otherwise each day becomes a repetition of a dulling sense of sameness.  Rather like another movie that focuses on this most peculiar holiday.


No Plan

I suppose it’s debatable whether it can be considered a holiday treat to watch what is often called the worst movie ever made.  Still, I did so over the Christmas break.  Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space is a frequent nominee for worst film, and Wood himself an enigma.  Disagreement over whether he really had such poor taste or whether he was hampered with budgets too small to achieve his goals seem to float around.  Was he misunderstood or simply clueless?  As many of us learn, breaking into big entertainment—whether it be film making, novel writing, or music performance—is a game of chance in which your chances are nearly nil.  So we might have some appreciation for those like Wood who, perhaps lacking talent, press on anyway.  Wood, who became an alcoholic, died in poverty, his work scorned.

Plan 9 from Outer Space is truly bad.  Everything from the stilted writing to the wooden acting is risible.  The idea that aliens are raising the dead to get world leaders to admit they’re there might give you a chuckle, but edit in previously shot footage of Bela Lugosi as a vampire, and confusion reigns.  Lugosi, who also died in poverty, was no longer even alive when the movie was released.  He and Wood had become friends.  Despite all its obstacles, the film has a good message.  The arrogance of humanity in assuming no higher beings could exist is still as much of a problem now as it was in the fifties.  And interestingly enough, Wood throws God into the dialogue as well.  There is even a Bible scene, if I ever get around to writing a sequel to Holy Horror.

At the end, the earthlings give a sigh of relief watching the flying saucer explode, even as they admit that the aliens are more intelligent and advanced than we are.  There’s almost a parable here that still holds true in the United States, at least.  We don’t like to listen to those who know more than we do, and after we defeat them we reflect on how they really were better equipped to handle things.  It may not have been any consolation to Wood as he died at the age of 54, but his films would go on to gain substantial cult followings.  I had been meaning to watch Plan 9 for many years, and now that I have my response is one of sympathy for a creative guy who simply didn’t have the means to do what he wanted to do.  And yet he did it anyway.  There’s almost a holiday feel to it.


The Point of It

It’s not difficult to feel overwhelmed by the scope of the problem.  Race was a construct developed to oppress.  The intention was to keep those of non-European, especially non-northern European, ancestry in servitude.  The rationale for doing so was part capitalistic, but also largely religious.  Convinced that Jesus was white, and that the “New Israel” had passed to Christianized Europe, it didn’t take much theological maneuvering to get to the point that others can be—in that mindset, should be—brought into line.  And since this religion comes with a built-in body-soul dualism, it’s not difficult to claim you’re trying to save a soul by destroying a body.  That way you can still sleep at night while doing something everyone knows is wrong.

Martin Luther King, Jr. stood up to such ideas.  His understanding of Christianity was more in alignment with what Jesus said and that threatened those in the establishment who found any challenge to profit heresy.  There can be no denying that racism is one more attempt to keep wealth centralized.  It’s something not to share, which, strangely enough, is presented as gospel.  There are many people still trying to correct this wrong.  It is wrong when a religion distorts its central message in order to exploit marginalized people.  The key word here is “people.”  Black people are people.  Their lives matter and every time this is said others try to counter with “all lives matter, ” a platitude that misses the point.  We need Martin Luther King Day.  We need to be reminded that we’re still not where we should be.  We’re still held in thrall to a capitalism that rewards those who use oppression to enrich themselves.

I was born in the civil rights era.  I suppose I mistakenly reasoned that others had learned the message as well.  All people deserve fair treatment.  Today we remember a Black leader, but we still have the blood of many oppressed peoples on our hands.  Those who first came to live in this country, whose land was stolen in the name of religion.  Those whose gender and sex put them at threat by those who believe control of resources is more important that care of fellow human beings.  It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, but in King’s words, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”   If we believe that, and if we can act on it, there remains the possibility that we might actually achieve the reason we set this day aside to reflect.

Photo by Katt Yukawa on Unsplash

Writing 2023

I don’t put a great deal of stock in either round numbers or random passings of time, such as New Year’s Day.  Don’t get me wrong—I’m glad for the holiday—but time is like an ocean; who can say where it begins or ends?  Many people use this occasion to correct bad behaviors, but I was raised with enough of a Calvinist outlook that I tend to be self-correcting along the way.  I certainly corrected myself at several points in 2022 and still ended up spending a couple of its final days in the hospital with an ill family member.  The way I get through is by living in a world that’s largely fantasy.  I awake early (even on holidays) and spend the first few hours of the day writing and reading.  Without this I fear I might become a monster.  A self-correcting one, of course, but a monster nevertheless.

Looking ahead is too scary, so I read and watch horror instead.  If recent reading is correct, such activities are taking part in creating modern myths.  Who knows what 2023 might bring?  It’s safest to take things one day at a time.  I am hoping that my Wicker Man book will appear in this, the fiftieth anniversary of the film.  I also hope to get some more YouTube videos posted, as well as continuing this blog.  As last year unspooled I intentionally did not accept any more academic writing assignments.  The stress levels run too high for that kind of thing, and my CV’s not going to get me back into academia at any point soon.  Life’s too short, and it is better to spend it writing what I want to write.

Writing one’s future isn’t a bad idea, I suppose.  I’ve learned that plans almost never work out the way intended.  I’m not sure if that’s because growing up poor plants ideas too high to grasp in your head, or if life is inherently populated by unseen tricksters.  It’s best to try to keep them happy in any case.  And at least this year begins with a four-day work week.  We can be thankful for small mercies.  Even as it starts I’m casting my eye hypocritically toward the next Christmas break, for which I save up my scant vacation days, and which I anticipate all year long.  In the meanwhile there’s the lion’s share of 2023 to get through.  It feels daunting at this point, but with books and those I love, I hope to reach that point unscathed as I write my future.


Ideal Christmas

This blog is even open on Christmas.  I’m enough of a pragmatist to realize that few read it today, but even Carl Sagan knew that launching the Pioneer plaques into the void was the smallest spark of hope.  A quark in a universe so vast that we suppose it infinite.  And even so, it makes room for us.  So, if nobody reads this on Christmas I’ll certainly understand.  If you do, and if you celebrate Christmas, a merry one to you.  Thanks for stopping by.  For some folks, I know, Christmas is a time for gathering together.  A British colleague recently remarked to me, “But Thanksgiving is the big American holiday.”  I think he meant both for family gathering and for time off work—it’s the only regular four-day weekend capitalism deigns to give to those who live between the anvil and hammer of nine and five.  But today’s Christmas, we don’t have to think about that.

For me the ideal Christmas is one hunkered down with my family and when we don’t ever have to get out of our pajamas.  A bohemian holiday when you don’t have to go outside to check the mail.  As cold as it is this year, that’s really a relief.  And it’s also a time for stories.  Most of the Christmas gifts I give require explanation.  Even if they don’t, I like to tell stories about them.  That’s the way writers roll, even us obscure ones.  Holidays are based on stories and are made up of stories.  Those we tell only to our families are the most intimate kind.  You see, the brain doesn’t stop working just because it’s a holiday.  So all the books bear witness.

Although it’s too early to tell (the sun isn’t up yet), we might just eke out a white Christmas around here.  In eastern Pennsylvania we managed to avoid the worst of the massive storm that ruined holiday plans for many.  At the tail end of the rain, and at the knife’s edge of the frigid air, come a dusting of snow.  The temperatures have kept low, so if the sun hasn’t managed to warm the still green grass enough, we may see some white today.  It seems we have Bing Crosby to blame for this particular dream.  Christmas isn’t predictably white around here, and global warming only makes it less so.  But this is a holiday, and we don’t need to think about that.  I know not many will read this post, but if you are one of the few, and if this day is special to you, celebrate it for all it’s worth.


The Eve before Christmas

Even as we sit here on Christmas Eve, the work week finally over, my thoughts go to those who celebrate different holidays.  Or none at all.  Cultural Christians may find it difficult to believe that some sects—thinking themselves strictly biblical—observe no holidays.  Not even birthdays, some of them.  You may be doubting the accuracy of that statement, but my second college roommate was one of them.  He believed any holiday was idolatrous, and celebrating birthdays self aggrandizing.  Perhaps it’s not surprising that he can’t be found online.  Many of us, some without reflecting much on it, have been preparing for tomorrow for many weeks.  The older I get, for me it’s really the time off work I treasure.  It’s so rare, and more precious than gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Like many people, I associate Christmas with music.  One of the songs—not really a Christmas carol—that has become seasonal by its inclusion on Pentatonix’s album That’s Christmas to Me, is “White Winter Hymnal.”  The song is a cover of a haunting song by Fleet Foxes, a folk band, who included it on their debut album, the eponymous Fleet Foxes.  If you’re not familiar with it you can find it here, along with the official video.  The claymation short portrays a group of old men outdoors watching time pass.  One of them begins to crank a drive that makes them younger as time reverses.  When he reaches that point (please forgive the sexist language) “when a man becomes a boy once again” (from another winter song), he releases the handle and the men rapidly reach the age they were when the song began.  Time is the greatest gift.

As the decades press on, their weight increases.  Dreams of what, as a young man, I hoped to accomplish slip away facing the grinding reality of capitalism.  The need to have money to spend for Christmas presents.  And food and shelter.  But mostly books.  Writing takes time.  Writing well takes a tremendous amount of time.  Time for reading, reflecting, and even listening to music.  Christmas Eve is all about waiting.  We hope for a quiet, if cold, tomorrow when maybe the phone and email will cease to solicit money and time, if only for a day.  I have to remind myself that not everyone recognizes Christmas.  For some it’s simply the season to make money.  I, weak as I am, cannot imagine life without it.  And so I watch the skies, eagerly straining my eyes for the light.


Space Ads

So, I’ve got enough stuff to worry about down here—the chimney needs some attention, that backyard gate still doesn’t hang right, and Giant keeps on running out of the cereal I buy—to have to turn my attention to space.  I love outer space, although, unlike some people I’ve never been there.  One of the simple pleasures in life is to be outdoors at the lake and watching the night sky where there’s no light interference.  Then I learned about space advertising.  You see, as an editor you get to read about all kinds of topics, and this came up in a proposal one time.  I had no idea that companies had been proposing billboards in space to fly across our nighttime skies.  It’s hard enough to use the internet anymore without hacking your way through a jungle of ads, and now they want to clutter our view of the nighttime sky so there’s no escaping capitalism.

“Space, the final frontier.”  This is a mantra that many of us grew up with in the sixties.  Most of us can’t afford to, and really have no desire to, go into space.  Born down here, we’re content to stay down here.  That doesn’t mean we can’t look at the sky with wonder.  Already you can’t go to the beach or a stadium event without planes flying banners trying to draw your mind back to the commercial world.  Even in remote forests you can find litter stamped with some company’s logo, trying to sell you more.  It’s enough to make you want to get to space to get away from it all.  Now that companies can afford to fly people to space as tourists—this is pretty strictly limited to the top one percent, of course—they feel they have the right to clutter the nighttime skies so that you’ll have that midnight urge to go buy a Tesla.

The original space advertising?

At this time of year we look to the nighttime sky in hopes of seeing a special star.  People with too much money cause so many unnecessary problems for the rest of us.  This has been apparent throughout history, but has been brought into sharper focus in the days of late capitalism.  Having too much only makes you want more, it seems.  And since other people have some you need to flash your company in their faces constantly.  From what I’ve read the only reason space advertising hasn’t really taken off is that it costs millions to get your ad up there.  Despite inflation it seems that these kinds of costs always come down.  And yet you can’t even get a contractor to come out and do something about that deck that’s falling apart.  And I do hope that they’ll have my cereal at the store this week.


Holiday Horrors

Holiday horror is a genre—really a sub-genre—that is still being explored.  It’s the subject of my my latest YouTube video.  Typical definitions suggest that it builds on a haunted or inauspicious history of the day.  I tend to think that really to fit the category that the holiday can’t be simply incidental.  It has to contribute to that fear that the movie brings.  The most popular holiday for horror films has long been Christmas.  Halloween may be starting to catch up, but Christmas has a long head start.  I ask myself if Black Christmas fits.  The title suggests as much, but how does it derive fear from the holiday?  It is, like When a Stranger Calls, one of the early cinematic renditions of the urban legend “the babysitter and the man upstairs.”  Yes, the calls are coming from inside the house, but there’s more going on here.  The sorority house is invaded during a Christmas party.

The fear, however, comes from both the juxtaposition of the cheerful holiday and the ambiguity of a slowly emptying residence.  Coeds are leaving for the holiday.  Or are they?  The bleakness of the weather adds to the dreariness of the plot.  The function of holiday horror is to make viewers address what’s really important about the occasion.  Tragedy can strike any day of the year—it’s no respecter of birthdays or other holy occasions.  John Carpenter got his idea for Halloween from this film, so in many ways Black Christmas does fit the sub-genre.  Its titling, however, complicates this.  Originally called Stop Me, the movie was to be set on Christmas break but the focus was not to be on the holiday.  Even as it was released the title continued to change, in America it was first called Silent Night, Evil Night.

Like the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, critics initially didn’t like this movie but time has shifted that.  It is an effective horror film and probably part of the objection (I’m psychologizing here, without a license) had to do with implicating a holiday—a happy holiday—with horror.  Christmas is, for many, a stressful time of year.  Instead of quietness and relaxation, it’s a season of intense socializing and measuring one’s generosity against that of others.  We try so hard to make others happy with material things.  Holiday horror need not add to that stress.  In fact, it can make you stop and think about what’s really important.  There’s a reason that Christmas was long the holiday associated with scary stories before Halloween really took off.


Yule Tidings

Happy Yule!  One of the things my British colleagues find hard to believe is how Dickensian American employers are about days off around the holidays.  Corporations tend to give one day for Christmas, and you can hear them grumbling, “I suppose you must have the whole day?” even as they give it.  Christmas is, however, a season.  The twelve days begin on the 25th, but Yule starts today.  Yule marks the solstice—the fewest hours (minutes) of daylight occur today.  Tomorrow daylight will start to grow longer, although it will take many days before we begin to notice any difference.  I know this reflects a northern hemisphere bias, but having read about how less time is necessary for work, given technology, I wonder if there might not be a more equitable solution to this hemispheric focus.

What if we regularly gave generous time off around the holidays to recharge our batteries—renew our spirits—for both hemispheres?  What if we gave our southern neighbors the benefit of, say, a week off in June, after the summer solstice?  And what if we joined them as well?  Only the most uninformed believe that Jesus of Nazareth was born on December 25.  The best that those facile with calendars and history  can do is that he was likely born in the spring, so why not split the difference and offer rest and respite in both December and June?  Bean counters who equate every second in front of the screen as adding to the bottom line (a fable as sure as anything the brothers Grimm recorded) might need to be the ones leading the way.  Rest is important.  Time to think about something else.

Yule is an ancient celebration.  We don’t know how far back in history it goes because there are no records of its earliest celebration.  Before computers, before the industrial revolution, it was recognized that little truly productive outdoor work could be done during the winter months.  Obviously we can’t sit around and do nothing all the way til March, but these very short days bridging the end and beginning of what we now recognize as the new year, are custom-made for reflection and renewal.  Why not encourage it?  Perhaps the bean counters could use it to read A Christmas Carol.  Maybe they could set aside their abacuses and reflect on the wonder of the seasons that suggest to us that now is the time to rest and wait for the light to return.  Let’s truly celebrate Yule.


Seasonal Sights and Sounds

It’s listed as one of the top ten Christmas activities in Pennsylvania.  Koziar’s Christmas Village, located north of Reading and really out in the country, has been in business for 75 years.  Family owned and operated, it’s a walkthrough Christmas lights display.  I’ve been to many drive-through displays over the years, but on Saturday we went to this walk-through.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  In the end, it was like many such attractions—lots of lights and painted plywood cutouts, flocked animals and dioramas with mechanically moving dolls.  What was truly impressive, however, was the number of people there.  Opening daily at 5 p.m., just as it’s getting dark, the sizable parking lot was already filling up at 4:30.  Walking through the display was essentially letting yourself by moved along by the crowds.  There were thousands of people there on Saturday night.

Getting into our car to head home, there were yet miles of cars backed up wanting to get in, and this was at 8:30.  Such sights of Christmas put us in holiday mode.  Seeing so many other people getting into the spirit of things was, in its own way, inspirational.  The next night—this being the weekend before the holiday itself—we attended the Christmas with the Celts concert at the Zollner Arts Center in Bethlehem.  Bethlehem prides itself on being “Christmas City,” founded, as it was, on Christmas Eve by the Moravians.  Christmas with the Celts is an annual show with different line-ups having in common live music, Celtic tunes, and Christmas.  The auditorium was pretty full, so I was glad for our masks.  They didn’t get in the way of the sounds of Christmas and a few stories from Ireland.

The sights and sounds of Christmas are part of what make this time of year so memorable, and something to which we look forward each year, despite the shortness of the days and the coldness of the air.  There’s a hopefulness about the holiday season, an underlying awareness that things need not always be as they are now.  Just two days away, the winter solstice—the holiday of Yule in its own right—marks the slow turning point to longer days.  It means winter is just getting started, but the cold brings with it more and more light in compensation.  Holiday sights and sounds help us through this transition.  And maybe, if things go right, they won’t be just the same as before afterwards, they may be even better.


Birthing Stars

Fusion.  The recent breakthrough with fusion announced so close to Christmas hardly seems a coincidence to me.  I have to admit to having been interested in fusion since high school.  One of my school term papers was on what was then called a “magnetic bottle”—a theoretical device capable of containing a fusion reaction.  The hydrogen bomb, of course, had already demonstrated that fusion was possible.  Controlling it was, at the time, the difficulty.  Now, I’m no scientist.  I’ve read quite a bit of lay science over the years and even worked on a project about the relationship of science to religion.  Still, you can’t follow everything.  I’d lost contact with fusion until the announcement this week that scientists have finally demonstrated that it’s possible to get more energy out of a controlled fusion reaction than it takes to get the reaction started.

In case you know even less about science than I do, fusion is what powers stars.  Unlike fission, it’s a “clean” nuclear reaction and one, as far as we can tell, that has made life possible on this planet.  Star power.  We’ve known for many decades that this could be the solution to humanity’s energy needs.  Of course, big petroleum has tried to slow such research down—there are personal fortunes to be lost and what is life without a fortune?  Now, with technology far beyond my comprehension, a fusion reaction was born that showed promise that we’re on the right track.

Photo credit: NASA, via Wikimedia Commons

Since it’s been rather gloomy around here this December, the thought of more sunshine cheers me.  Living in the Lehigh Valley, of course, my thoughts turn toward the Bethlehem star.  It’s such a crucial element to the Christmas story that we’d hardly know what to do without it.  Stars are our guides through the dark.  Winter nights are often clear and are opportunities to see the nighttime stars, even as we light up our artificial ones here below.  Light encourages light.  In a laboratory somewhere scientists are busy making stars.  I have to believe it’s satisfying work.  Perhaps the kind of job you’re eager to get back to the day after Christmas.  Although fusion would be used for power in general, one of the functions would surely be the giving of light.  As we move toward next week’s solstice and light our Yule logs, encouraging light to return, women and men in white smocks are designing and using complex equipment to help it on its way.


Holding Still

For some people today is the start of the “holiday season.”  Thanksgiving begins what often becomes a rush up until Christmas.  Moods tend to be more festive, if not carefree.  As for me, I always save up vacation days so that I can make my own mini “semester break” late in December.  From the onset of the holiday season I can see far enough to be able to make it through the rest of the year.  For me the season seems to begin at Halloween.  It’s not a federal holiday and I don’t know anyone who gets Halloween off of work, but I take holidays seriously, and Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas are all anticipated days.  And in the spirit of the day, I’m thinking of the many things for which I’m thankful.

Family, friends, and health go without saying.  I really don’t need a holiday to remind me to be grateful for these things.  This year I’m thankful to have made it back from Denver unscathed.  Since it was over twelve hours of travel (less than three of those hours spent in flight) to get home, it was a long, weary, mask-wearing day of travel.  Denver Airport is nearly an hour from downtown.  The American Airlines agent was able to get me an earlier flight to Chicago.  My reading was disrupted by sleepiness and the fact that the woman next to me was watching Jordan Peele’s Nope on her laptop.  I’ve been meaning to watch it again, so I hope I wasn’t obvious when I didn’t strictly observe the custody of my eyes.  The most grueling part, however, was the four-hour layover in Chicago’s O’Hare.  

No matter what the owners do, there’s a limit to how comfortable airport waiting can be.  You have to keep a constant eye on your bags.  Very, very few people are wearing masks.  And two days before Thanksgiving is a busy travel day with people trying to avoid the busiest travel day of the year (yesterday).  I’m thankful to have gotten home and not to have been too much the worse for the wear.  And I’m thankful to spend a day not having to wear a mask.  It’s funny how having to wear one for five straight days all day long can become a point of dread.  I like being able to take a drink of water without having to pull down a mask.  Returning to life as usual will take some adjustment—it always does.  So much travel after spending years not doing it is a bit of a shock to the system.  I’m reminded of one of the most colourful place names we encountered in the highlands of Scotland, and it is my theme this Thanksgiving: Rest and Be Thankful.

Rest and Be Thankful, unknown photographer

Not Over

It’s not over, you know.  Halloween, I mean.  We may have made it through the actual night of trick-or-treating with all of its build-up, but like many holidays from olden times, Halloween was, and still should be, part of a complex of holy days.  People have long believed that something was transitioning at this time of year.  Halloween spun off of its more sacred sibling, All Saints Day.  Before Christianization, Samhain perhaps spanned more than one day.  As a result of relentless capitalism with its parsimonious counting of days off, like pre-conversion Scrooge, has made all holidays one-day events.  Sometimes you need some time to sort out what’s happening and this three-day complex is one of those times.  Día de los Muertos begins today—this holiday’s just getting started.

I’ve frequently suggested to the few who’ll listen that we need to take holidays seriously.  Culturally we tolerate them as days of less productivity.  Who actually gets Halloween off work?  And how many of us work in places where “Happy Halloween” is a regular greeting on the 31st?  I don’t know about you, but in all my Zoom meetings yesterday nobody was wearing a costume.  And yet, at Nashotah House I learned that today is a “day of obligation.”  Attending services isn’t optional (of course, it never was optional at Nashotah).  But this one was really serious.  The Catholic Church moved All Saints Day to November 1 to counter Samhain celebrations encountered in Celtic lands.  People are reluctant to give up their religion, however, and the day before All Hallows allowed for Samhain to retain its identity.  And even today’s not the end of the season.  Tomorrow has traditionally been All Souls Day.  But what company’s going to give you three days off at this time of year? We’re gearing up for Black Friday.

Holidays serve to give structure to the passing of time.  Winter with its privations is on its way.  This autumnal complex of holidays, whether celebrated as Samhain, Día de los Muertos, or Halloween-All Saints-All Souls, reminds us to take a pause and ponder what all of this really means.  And not only ponder, but also celebrate.  Halloween is fun with its costumes and candy and spooky decorations, but it’s more than just that.  It’s a season of existential questions and of preparing for the inevitable cold days ahead.  We ignore such things at our own peril.  There are reasons for holidays, but those who find meaning only in mammon see no reason to offer even one day off, amid a season we most deeply, intensely need.


This Halloween

This year I’ve been making a conscious effort to appreciate autumn.  It’s admittedly difficult when you’re forced to sit in an office, even a home office, for most of the daylight hours five days a week.  (At least I have a window here, which I never had on Madison Avenue.)  Seeing the blue skies and colorful leaves, each individual one of which is a singular work of art, or watching the moody, cloudy skies, I wish for freedom.  Every night before falling asleep, if I can remember to do so, the last word I whisper to myself has been “September,” then “October,” to remind myself of the wonder of this time of year in which I’ve been privileged to live.  Since America is driven by money alone, often in the guise of religion, Halloween is practically over before it begins.  Stores have sold their candy and spooky decorations, now it’s on to the more lucrative Christmas season.

Do we really believe that holidays have any power anymore?  Is Halloween really, perhaps, a time when the veil between worlds is actually thin?  Or have we ceased believing in the other world, the one behind all the money and sham?   Holidays are liminal times.  In an ironic way, it’s my heartfelt appreciation of Halloween that led me to write about The Wicker Man, although it’s set half a year away.  Nashotah House was hardly an ideal place to work, but prior to an administration change, it was the best place I’ve ever lived to celebrate Halloween.  A campus with an in-house cemetery, and surrounded (at the time) by cornfields and woods, was adjunct to really believing.  It was a haunted place.

Out on late nights or early mornings, I often felt it.  Trying to photograph a comet down by the lake by myself, woods on either side, in the total dark.  Or dragging a lawn chair through the trees to the edge of a cornfield at 4 a.m. to try to catch a meteor shower.   Hiding in the graveyard on Halloween night, dressed as a grim reaper to follow the hay wagon of kids that the maintenance director would drive through on that night.  Those memories remain as highlights of my foreshortened teaching career.  Since Harry Potter was in the ascendant, students had taken to calling the seminary “Hogwarts,” and, I was told, I was the master of Ravenclaw.  The leaves, miniature Van Gogh’s each one, are fast falling from the trees.  There’s a decided chill in the air.  Something might, just might, really happen this Halloween.


Hallowed Tradition

The more I learn about the movie industry the more complex I realize it is.  Take Trick ‘r Treat, for example.  It was released to some film festivals—and backed by a major studio—in 2007.  I wondered why I’d never really heard of it, and the reason seems to be that it never had a theatrical release.  Until this month.  It is now playing in theaters.  The thing is, it’s already available on streaming services because it gained a cult following when it was initially released fifteen years ago.  I came to know about it by wandering into one of those Halloween pop-up stores recently.  There were plenty of Sam costumes so I did a little research and discovered a Halloween movie I’d never seen.

I have to say, the first time watching it was confusing.  I didn’t realize it was four or five separate, but interlaced stories.  I kept waiting for a central plot to emerge, but it didn’t.  At the same time, I wasn’t aware that it was a comedy horror either.  I have no problem with comedy horror, of course.  I just like to know that before I get into it.  Once I’d figured these things out, I could see the draw.  It is fun and seasonal.  Clearly it’s holiday horror.  In fact several websites list it as being essential October viewing.  It’s certainly different from many Halloween movies in refusing to be taken seriously.  It’s like adults having fun instead of kids enjoying the holiday.

Perhaps the most self-aware Halloween film, it constantly reinforces that you need to obey Samhain etiquette.  Those who are killed (and there are many) die for having violated the rules of the holiday.  I appreciate the fact that it insists that we do these things for a reason.  Wearing costumes, handing out candy, carving and lighting jack-o-lanterns, these all serve a purpose.  The movie suggests we need to do these things to stay safe from Sam.  Sam, of course, can’t be killed which means that a sequel may be in the works.  Trick ‘r Treat gets full marks for staying focused on the holiday.  Holiday horror has been a fascination of mine for some time and this movie has it in spades.  Even if it’s a little confusing at times, it’s a fun way to celebrate the season.  And this year you have your choice of seeing it in the theater or streaming it on your most convenient device.