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HALLOWEEN, 9/11, and the New England SOUL

It’s Autumn – the quintessential New England season. Foliage. Clean air. Slower pace around the coastline and environs. Football. James Taylor. George Winston. Van Morrison. And Halloween.

But I’ve noticed something different about Halloween during the past few years. Maybe it’s because my kids are older. And I’m a good decade away from being invited to costume parties, although I rocked a decent Keith Richards back in the day. Then there’s the Mischief Night mayhem, which I’ve lost patience for. I’ve been struggling to figure out what feels different about it. There’s a missing vibe. The reason it’s no longer a purely American display of excess commercialism and measurable upticks in the retail spend, minus inflation, seasonally adjusted.
I think I figured it out. Halloween has been changed by September 11. Maybe for the better, maybe for the worse, but changed.
I got to thinking about this when my daughter left for college. That same day, my yoga teacher was talking about the importance of energy changes. How summer is a time of change and relocation. We used to look at the end of summer as a window into more intense energy at work and school: a portal from which we could see Halloween, Thanksgiving and, a little further out, Christmas. All three are age essentials New England holidays.
I mean, I guess you could go trick-or-treating with kids in Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles (I hate “LA”) or Seattle. But with out crisp air, leaf piles, and the crunch of acorns under your feet, it’s not Halloween.
Now, however, there’s something else comes between summer and Halloween. But it’s no festival. September 11 is a speed bump on the way to the end of the year. In Northeast especially, it’s a reminder of impermanence, violence, and loss. A day when death came out of a clear blue sky, unexpected, updated in real-tin. September 11 isn’t a holiday per se, but I challenge you to name an official national day of remembrance that comes even close to its visceral emotion.
It is a day amplified by media. Imprinted by constant imagery. As Halloween is in its purist form, September 11 is reconginatiin of the haunting presence of the departed. It’s a tip of the hat and itch’s broom to the dark side of our souls – and our world. We don’t put a costume on it, or pour candy over it. It is a reminder that the world as we know it today has the potential to make no sense tomorrow.
As someone who has been in the media business for longer that I’d care to admit, I’m sensitive to the ways our always-on culture affects our worldview. It seems like September 11 hangs around in the Northeast for about a week. It has such a real impact that Halloween has been relegated – I would say reduced – to nothing more than a kid’s party. The reason: We can’t get back to the dark side to it.
A little history, to illustrate my point. Halloween started with the ancient Celtic festival Samhain (pronounced sow-in). This is 2,000 years ago in Ireland. Samhain was the new year, marked on November 1. It was the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of winter. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31 the believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.
On the heels on 9/11, maybe that’s just a bit too close to an unwelcome new reality. But it doesn’t have to be a total downer.
For me, Halloween also has a romantic and spiritual side. I think it comes back on a very personal level. It doesn’t lend itself to outside celebrations very well. For coastal New England, Halloween marks the time when people move their focus inland. It initiates the moodier side of coastal life. The brights of summer gives way to the hues of autumn. Chatfield Hollow hikes. Essex walks. North Guilford drives. Orange and burnt red. Time to let the outside changes seep into the soul.
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